Sir Victor Horsley: pioneer craniopharyngioma surgeon

José M. Pascual MD, PhD1, Ruth Prieto MD, PhD2, and Paolo Mazzarello MD, PhD3
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  • 1 Department of Neurosurgery, La Princesa University Hospital;
  • | 2 Department of Neurosurgery, Puerta de Hierro University Hospital, Madrid, Spain; and
  • | 3 Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences and History Museum, University of Pavia, Italy
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Sir Victor Horsley (1857–1916) is considered to be the pioneer of pituitary surgery. He is known to have performed the first surgical operation on the pituitary gland in 1889, and in 1906 he stated that he had operated on 10 patients with pituitary tumors. He did not publish the details of these procedures nor did he provide evidence of the pathology of the pituitary lesions operated on. Four of the patients underwent surgery at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (Queen Square, London), and the records of those cases were recently retrieved and analyzed by members of the hospital staff. The remaining cases corresponded to private operations whose records were presumably kept in Horsley's personal notebooks, most of which have been lost.

In this paper, the authors have investigated the only scientific monograph providing a complete account of the pituitary surgeries that Horsley performed in his private practice, La Patologia Chirurgica dell'Ipofisi (Surgical Pathology of the Hypophysis), written in 1911 by Giovanni Verga, Italian assistant professor of anatomy at the University of Pavia. They have traced the life and work of this little-known physician who contributed to the preservation of Horsley's legacy in pituitary surgery. Within Verga's pituitary treatise, a full transcription of Horsley's notes is provided for 10 pituitary cases, including the patients' clinical symptoms, surgical techniques employed, intraoperative findings, and the outcome of surgery. The descriptions of the topographical and macroscopic features of two of the lesions correspond unmistakably to the features of craniopharyngiomas, one of the squamous-papillary type and one of the adamantinomatous type. The former lesion was found on necropsy after the patient's sudden death following a temporal osteoplastic craniectomy. Surgical removal of the lesion in the latter case, with the assumed nature of an adamantinomatous craniopharyngioma, was successful. According to the evidence provided in Giovanni Verga's monograph, it can be claimed that Sir Victor Horsley was not only the pioneer of pituitary gland surgery but also the pioneer of craniopharyngioma surgery.

ABBREVIATION

CP = craniopharyngioma.

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