Wilder Penfield

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Wilder Graves Penfield
Wilder Penfield.jpg
Wilder Penfield in 1934.
Born (1891-01-26)January 26, 1891
Spokane, Washington, United States
Died April 5, 1976(1976-04-05) (aged 85)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Fields Neurosurgery
Institutions Montreal Neurological Institute
Alma mater Princeton University
Merton College, Oxford
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Known for
  • Prompting memory recall during surgery via temporal lobe stimulation
  • Treatment of epilepsy by surgery
  • Montreal procedure
  • Penfield dissector

Wilder Graves Penfield OM CC CMG FRS (January 26, 1891 – April 5, 1976) was a pioneering neurosurgeon once dubbed "the greatest living Canadian".[1] He expanded brain surgery's methods and techniques, including mapping the functions of various regions of the brain. Penfield devoted a lot of his thinking to mental processes, contemplating whether there was any scientific basis for the existence of the human soul until his death.[1]

Biography[edit]

Penfield at Princeton University in 1913.

Penfield was born in Spokane, Washington on January 26,[Notes 1] 1891 but spent most of his early life in Hudson, Wisconsin.[1] He studied at Princeton University, where was a member of Cap and Gown Club[2] and played on the football team. After graduation in 1913, he was hired briefly as the team coach. He then obtained a Rhodes Scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, where he studied neuropathology under Sir Charles Scott Sherrington. In the meantime, he obtained his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He then spent several years training at Oxford, where he met William Osler. In 1924, he worked for five months with Pio del Rio-Hortega characterising the type of glial cells known as oligodendroglia.[3] He also studied in Germany and New York.[4]

After taking a surgical apprenticeship under Harvey Cushing, he obtained a position at the Neurological Institute of New York, where he carried out his first solo operations to treat epilepsy. While in New York, he met David Rockefeller, who wished to endow an institute where Penfield could further study the surgical treatment of epilepsy. Academic politics amongst the New York neurologists, however, prevented its establishment in New York, so, in 1928, Penfield accepted an invitation from Sir Vincent Meredith to move to Montreal. There, Penfield taught at McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital, becoming the city's first neurosurgeon.

In 1934, Penfield founded and became the first director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and associated Montreal Neurological Hospital at McGill University, established with the Rockefeller funding. That year, he also became a Canadian citizen.

Penfield was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1950[5] and retired ten years later in 1960. He turned his attention to writing, producing a novel as well as his autobiography No Man Alone.[Notes 2]

In 1960, the year he retired, Penfield was awarded the Lister Medal for his contributions to surgical science.[6] He delivered the corresponding Lister Oration, "Activation of the Record of Human Experience", at the Royal College of Surgeons of England on April 27, 1961.[7] In 1967, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and, in 1994, was (posthumously) inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Much of his archival material is housed in the Osler Library at McGill University.

In his later years, Penfield dedicated himself to the public interest, particularly in support of university education. With his friends Governor-General Georges Vanier and Pauline Vanier, he co-founded the Vanier Institute of the Family "to promote and guide education in the home – man's first classroom."[citation needed] He was also an early proponent of childhood bilingualism.

Penfield died on April 5, 1976 of abdominal cancer at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.[1][8]

Neural stimulation[edit]

Penfield was a groundbreaking researcher and original surgeon. With his colleague Herbert Jasper, he invented the Montreal procedure in which he treated patients with severe epilepsy by destroying nerve cells in the brain where the seizures originated. Before operating, he stimulated the brain with electrical probes while the patients were conscious on the operating table (under only local anesthesia), and observed their responses. In this way he could more accurately target the areas of the brain responsible, reducing the side-effects of the surgery.

This technique also allowed him to create maps of the sensory and motor cortices of the brain (see cortical homunculus) showing their connections to the various limbs and organs of the body. These maps are still used today, practically unaltered. Along with Herbert Jasper, he published this work in 1951 (2nd ed., 1954) as the landmark Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain. This work contributed a great deal to understanding the lateralization of brain function. Penfield's maps showed considerable overlap between regions (i.e. the motor region controlling muscles in the hand sometimes also controlled muscles in the upper arm and shoulder) a feature which he put down to individual variation in brain size and localisation; we now know that this is due to the fractured somatotropy of the motor cortex.

Penfield reported[9] that stimulation of the temporal lobes could lead to vivid recall of memories. Oversimplified in popular psychology publications, including the best-selling I'm OK, You're OK, this seeded the common misconception that the brain continuously "records" experiences in perfect detail, although these memories are not available to conscious recall. In reality, however, the reported episodes of recall occurred in less than five percent of his patients, and these results have not been replicated by modern surgeons.[10] His development of the Penfield dissector, the neurosurgical technique that produced the less injurious meningo-cerebral scar, became widely accepted in the field of neurosurgery and remains in regular use.

Legacy[edit]

Avenue du Docteur-Penfield (45°30′01″N 73°34′59″W / 45.500342°N 73.583103°W / 45.500342; -73.583103), on the slope of Mount Royal in Montreal, was named in Penfield's honour on October 5, 1978. Part of this avenue borders McGill University's campus and intersects with Promenade Sir-William-Osler – meaning medical historians and the like may amuse themselves by arranging to "meet at Osler and Penfield".

In popular culture[edit]

  • Wilder Penfield was the subject of a memorable Heritage Minute, dramatizing his development of the Montreal procedure. When Dr. Penfield stimulates the seizure-producing part of her brain, an epileptic patient exclaims: "I can smell burnt toast!" This Heritage Minute was widely shown and again made Penfield a household name in Canada.
  • In Chapter 14 of Robert J. Sawyer's 2012 novel Triggers, it is revealed that the major character of Dr. Ranjip Singh, a Canadian, was inspired to pursue his career in neuroscience by having seen the "I can smell burnt toast" Heritage Minute about Penfield.
  • In science fiction author Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, characters use a household device called a Penfield Mood Organ to dial up emotions on demand.
  • The principal character in J.G. Ballard's novel Super-Cannes is a manipulative psychiatrist named Wilder Penrose.
  • Shirow Masamune's anime series Ghost Hound makes several references to Penfield and his studies.
  • The song "Wilder Penfield" by the Dead Sea Apes, a UK-based psychedelic rock, from The Sun Behind The Sun, a collaboration with Black Tempest released in February 2013 on Cardinal Fuzz records.[11]
  • In Ray Loriga's 1999 novel Tokio ya no nos quiere, Penfield's method of stimulating the temporal lobes is described and modified to treat the main character who has issues with memory recollection.
  • In the video game Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, "Penfield Mapping" is seemingly the process of drawing a cortical homunculus, necessary for one to enter a virtual environment.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ January 26 was the date supplied on his World War I draft registration, but other sources have January 25 (see PBS reference).
  2. ^ A later biography, Something Hidden, was written by his grandson Jefferson Lewis.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Wilder Penfield". PBS. Retrieved 2010-02-07. "Wilder Penfield was born in Spokane, Washington, and spent much of his youth in Hudson, Wisconsin. ... During his life he was called "the greatest living Canadian."" 
  2. ^ Shenstone, Allen Goodrich (Autumn 1982). "Princeton 1910–1914". Princeton University Library Chronicle 44 (1): 25–41. Retrieved 2013-11-26. 
  3. ^ Gill, AS; DK Binder (May 2007). "Wilder Penfield, Pío del Río-Hortega, and the discovery of oligodendroglia". Neurosurgery. 60(5) (5): discussion 940–8. doi:10.1227/01.NEU.0000255448.97730.34. PMID 17460531. 
  4. ^ "Wilder Penfield". Princeton University. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  5. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter P". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Lister Medal, Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 1961 January; 28(1): 15.
  7. ^ Wilder Penfield, "Activation of the Record of Human Experience", Ann R Coll Surg Engl 1961 August; 29(2): 77–84.
  8. ^ "W. G. Penfield, Neurologist, Dies. Refined Techniques to Treat Epilepsy Founded an Institute in Montreal". New York Times. April 5, 1976. Retrieved 2010-02-07. "Dr. Wilder G. Penfield, one of the world's foremost neurologists who honed surgical techniques for treating epilepsy, died yesterday of abdominal cancer at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. He was 85 years old." 
  9. ^ Penfield, W. Memory Mechanisms. AMA Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 67(1952): 178-198. 
  10. ^ Jensen, Eric (2005). Teaching With the Brain in Mind (2nd ed. ed.). Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. ISBN 1-4166-0030-2. 
  11. ^ "Wilder Penfield". soundcloud.com. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 

Selected books and publications[edit]

  • Epilepsy and Cerebral Localization: A Study of the Mechanism, Treatment and Prevention of Epileptic Seizures. Penfield, W., and Theodore C. Erickson. Charles C Thomas, 1941.
  • Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain. 2nd edition. Jasper, H., and Penfield, W. Little, Brown and Co., 1954. ISBN 0-316-69833-4
  • The Torch. Penfield, W. Little, Brown and Co.; 1960. ISBN 1-299-80119-6. "A story of love, treachery, and the battle for truth in ancient Greece."
  • The Mystery of the Mind : A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain. Penfield, Wilder. Princeton University Press, 1975. ISBN 0-691-02360-3
  • No Man Alone: A Surgeon's Life, Little, Brown and Co., 1977. ISBN 0-316-69839-3. Penfield's autobiography.
  • Something hidden : a biography of Wilder Penfield . Jefferson Lewis, Doubleday and Co., 1981. ISBN 0-385-17696-1.
  • Speech and Brain Mechanisms, Penfield, Wilder and Roberts, Lamar, Princeton University Press, 1959.

External links[edit]