Charles Edouard Brown Sequard 1817 – 1894

Charles Edouard Brown Sequard (1817-1894) FRCP 1860 (London), Fellow of the Royal Society, LLD Cambridge (1881), Baly Medal RC (London 1881). Physician at the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic (1860-1863), Professor of Physiology and Neuropathology at Harvard (1863), Professor at the Ecole de Medecine (1867-1873) (where he taught William James), Professor of Medicine at the College de France (1878). Brown Sequard was a British born physician, naturalised French (1878) (V.C. MedveiThe History of Clinical Endocrinology: A Comprehensive Account of Endocrinology from Earliest Times to the Present Day, (CRC Press15 Jan 1993). Page 159-160).  

Charles Sequard taught Otto Fullgraff, and he was a friend and neighbour of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson. Sequard was a colleague of Jean Martin Charcot, who was an advocate of homeopathy, and Alfred Vulpian (who experimented with belladonna).

The cases of the Welsh fasting girl & her father: on the possibility of long-continued abstinence from food. William Martin Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson, Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard. J. Burns, 1870. Brown Sequard’s 3rd Wife Emma Dakin (?-?) was a close friend of James John Garth Wilkinson ‘… Last night we dined with… and saw dear Emma Dakin, who looks very shadowy… (Swedenborg Archive K124 [a] Letter from Garth Wilkinson to Emma Wilkinson dated 11.9.1860)…’

James John Garth Wilkinson wrote an Obituary for his friend and colleague William Young (?-1879) a pharmaceutical chemist at 8 Neeld Terrace, and a publisher at 114, Victoria Street, Westminster, was the secretary of The London Society for the Abolition of Compulsory Vaccination, Victoria Street, Westminster ‘… and it is only a few weeks since I had a communication from him to make me acquainted with the New Youth recorded by Brown Sequard for himself from the seed of dogs… (Clement John Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson: a memoir of his life, with a selection of his letters, (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1911). Pages 271-274)…’

Brown Sequard caused a stir with his paper The Pentacle of Rejuvenescence published in the Lancet in 1889, recommending the use of organotherapy as ‘... a new elixir of life…’ Organotherapy became very popular in Britain in the 1890s, and is much used in homeopathy to this day (V.C. MedveiThe History of Clinical Endocrinology: A Comprehensive Account of Endocrinology from Earliest Times to the Present Day, (CRC Press15 Jan 1993). Page 159-160). Brown Sequard’s research and work was followed avidly by homeopaths on both sides of the Atlantic. Brown Sequard was instrumental in the use of Isopathy which is also much used in Homeopathy to this day.

From Harris Livermore Coulter Divided Legacy: A History of the Schism in Medical Thought; Vol IV, Twentieth Century Medicine: The Bacteriological Era(North Atlantic Books, 1994). Page 87-88. See also Elizabeth Siegel Watkins, The Estrogen Elixir: A History of Hormone Replacement Therapy in America(JHU Press, 6 Mar 2007). Page 13.

Harris Livermore Coulter page 87-8: Charles Edouard Brown Sequard took organotherapy further, using extracts from the endocrine glands, for example adrenal extract to treat Addison’s Disease and thyroid extract to treat goitre.

Johann Gottfried Rademacher adopted these techniques, and modern homeopaths today follow Johann Gottfried Rademacher’s techniques and use ordinary medicines to support weak or diseased organs, given most commonly in herbal tinctures or homeopathic Mother Tinctures. Johann Gottfried Rademacher‘s little book Rademacher’s Universal and Organ Remedies is a standby for modern homeopaths today.

Isopathy provoked endless arguments in the homeopathic circles: other nineteenth century relevant physicians who employed *isopathy were John Ernst StapfJohann Gottfried Rademacher (founder of ‘organotherapy’), Brown Sequard, Arnold, Johann Emanuel Veith, while Philip Wilhelm Ludwig Griesselich, Edward William Berridge and others disapproved this method because the isopathic substancs were rarely subjected to proving and were not prescribed on the basis of symptom similarity as in the original Samuel Hahnemann‘s method. (*including James Compton Burnett, Constantine Hering) After graduating in medicine at Paris in 1846 Charles Sequard returned to Mauritius with the intention of practising there, but in 1852 he went to America. There he was appointed to the faculty of the Medical College of Virginia where he conducted experiments in the basement of the Egyptian Building.

Subsequently he returned to Paris, and in 1859 he migrated to London, becoming Physician to the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic. There he stayed for about five years, expounding his views on the pathology of the nervous system in numerous lectures which attracted considerable attention.

In 1864 he again crossed the Atlantic, and was appointed Professor of Physiology and Neuropathology at Harvard. This position he relinquished in 1867, and in 1869 became professor at the École de Medecine in Paris, but in 1873 he again returned to America and began to practise in New York.

Finally, he went back to Paris to succeed Claude Bernard in 1878 as Professor of Experimental Medicine in the College de France, and he remained there till his death, which occurred on the April 2, 1894 at Sceaux, France. He was elected in 1886 as a member of the French Academy of Sciences.

Brown Sequard was a keen observer and experimentalist. He contributed largely to our knowledge of the blood and animal heat, as well as many facts of the highest importance on the nervous system. He was the first scientist to work out the physiology of the spinal cord, demonstrating that the decussation of the fibres carrying pain and temperature sensation occurs in the cord itself.

His name was immortalized in the history of medicine with the description of a syndrome which bears his name (Brown Sequard syndrome) due to the hemisection of the spinal cord, which he described after observing accidental injury of the spinal cord in farmers cutting sugar cane in Mauritius.

Far more important is that he was one of the first to postulate the existence of substances, now known as hormones, secreted into the bloodstream to affect distant organs. In particular, he demonstrated (in 1856) that removal of the adrenal glands resulted in death, due to lack of essential hormones. In his extreme old age, he advocated the hypodermic injection of a fluid prepared from the testicles of guinea pigs and dogs, as a means of prolonging human life.

It was known, among scientists, derisively, as the Brown Sequard Elixir. His researches, published in about 500 essays and papers, especially in the Archives de Physiologie, which he helped to found in 1868 along with Jean Martin Charcot and Alfred Vulpian, cover a very wide range of physiological and pathological subjects.

In the late 19th century Brown Sequard gave rise to much controversy in the case of supposed modification inheritance by his experiments on guinea pigs. In a series of experiments extending over many years (1869 to 1891), he showed that a partial section of the spinal cord, or a section of the sciatic nerve, was followed after a few weeks by a peculiar morbid state resembling epilepsy. The offspring of the animals operated on were frequently decrepit, and a certain number showed a tendency to the so called epilepsy.

Brown Sequard gave inspiration to Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson for the character of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, whilst they were neighbours in Cavendish Square, London.

Once in Paris, he was hit over the head with a parasol by the French animal rights activist Marie Huot, for having performed a vivisection on a monkey.

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