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April 28, 2017
18th Century Albrecht Von Haller

Albrecht Von Haller (1708-1777)

Elementa physiologiae corporis humani. 8 vols. Lausanne, Berne, 1757-66

Albrecht Von Haller
Portrait of Albrecht Von Haller
Portrait of Albrecht Von Haller

Cesalpino Andrea

Albrech Von Haller, of Bern, was a professor of anatomy, surgery and medicine and had a great interest in a variety of topics including botany, poetry and history. He contributed extensively to the knowledge of the cardiovascular physiology. Von Haller is regarded as one of the most influential physicians of the 18th century.

His monumental work, "Elementa physiologiae corporis humani", in 8 volumes was published during a period extending from 1757 to 1766 and is considered the most important work of the 18th century in the field of physiology.  This comprehensive treatise includes Haller's writing in nutrition, reproduction, respiration, muscle irritability, and the cardiovascular system.

This treatise was preceded by "Primae lineae physiologiae", published in 1747 and by two monographs focusing more specifically on the physiology of cardiovascular system which appeared in 1754 and 1756. The English translation of his 1754 work appeared under the title, "A dissertation on the motion of the blood, and on the effects of bleeding", in 1757. Von Haller published a supplementary volume in which he reported his additional investigational work on the cardiovascular anatomy and physiology based on 235 vivisections. In this work, he studied in detail the structure and function of cardiac valves.

Albrecht Von Haller discovered the principle of irritability of muscular fibers which would enable them to contract. He also noticed during animal experimentation that after cardiectomy, the heart continued to beat for a short period of time in spite of lack of  connection to the nervous system. That led him to postulate the intrinsic property of the myocardial fibers to contract and Von Haller became one of the early pioneers in the myogenic theory of the heart beat.

Other major contributions of Von Haller include the study of coronary circulation using the injection techniques, physiologic exploration of the arterial and venous systems, and microscopic study of experimental venous thrombosis. He also investigated the effect of respiration on venous return and was able to demonstrate that pulmonary blood flow would increase when the lungs where slightly inflated whereas it would decrease when the lungs were deflated.

These engravings on cardiac anatomy appeared in his monumental work, "Elementa physiologiae corporis humani".

Cesalpino Andrea
Cesalpino Andrea

Albrecht Von Haller did few original observations in the field of pathology. He described one of the first cases of pericardial calcification in "Opuscula Pathologica" in 1755. He also reported cases of gross calcified atheroma of the aorta with induration of the aortic valves.

As an innovator and pioneer, Von Haller was among the few early supporters of the diagnostic method of percussion which was invented by Auenbrugger in 1761.


Haller A. Primae  lineae physiologiae in usum praelectionum academicarum. Gottingen, A. Vandenhoeck, 1747

Haller  A. Opuscula pathologica. Lausanne, Bousquet et soc., 1755

Haller A. A dissertation on the motion of the blood, and on the effects of bleeding. London, J. Whiston and B. White, 1757

Haller A. A second dissertation on the motion of the blood, and effects on bleeding . London, J. Brown, 1757

Buess H. Albrecht von Haller and his Elementa Physiologiae as the beginning of pathological physiology. Med Hist 1959;3:123-131

Fye WB. Profiles in Cardiology: Albrecht von Haller. Clin Cardiol1995;18:291-292


Jean Baptiste de Senac Giovanni Battista Morgagni