William Beaumont (1785 – 1853)

white lineKnown as America’s first physiologist, Beaumont was a U.S. Army surgeon stationed on the frontier in northern Michigan in 1822 when he treated a young fur trapper accidentally shot in the chest at close range. Alexis St. Martin miraculously survived his injury, but the wound never fully healed, leaving a permanent opening directly into his stomach.  Beaumont realized that this opening, or fistula, would let him study digestion in the stomach at a time when very little was known about gastric digestion.

In 1824 he began a series of 238 experiments over 11 years, lowering different foods with a string into St. Martin’s abdomen to see how his stomach digested food.Beamont discovered that hydrochloric acid was the main substance in gastric secretion, that digestion was as much a chemical as a mechanical process, and that different foods were digested differently. Beaumont published his results in his now classic Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion in 1833, which quickly gained him fame in the U.S. and in Europe.

The Army sent Beaumont to St Louis in 1834 and when a few years later it tried to transfer him to Florida, he resigned and opened a successful private practice in the city.  It was there that he died at age 67 of complications from a fall on an icy step.



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