Welcome to Auld Reekie! These days, it is much more likely that it will be clouds of mist and rain that stop you seeing the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, than the smog that used to hang over the city. Still, on an atmospheric November day (that’s a euphemism for a dark, wet, November day), you can let your imagination run wild as you wander down Edinburgh’s historical Closes and remember the many historical characters who have trodden these paths before you.
Did you know that Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer, a Professor of Physiology at the University in the late 19th century, coined the term “endocrine”? He was also one of the discoverers of adrenalin and the person who gave insulin its name. Thomas Addison was a medical student here in 1815, and James Begbie, the first to describe Grave’s disease, was also a student, in 1821. More recently, Robert Edwards, who pioneered in vitro fertilisation, was a student too. Edinburgh researchers in endocrinology are also associated with the discoveries and/or synthesis of thyroxine, oxytocin and substance P.
You can explore the history of the Edinburgh Medical School, established in 1726 during the Scottish Enlightenment, in a visit to the Surgeons Hall Museum and, if you are lucky enough to coincide with one of its open days, the University’s Anatomical Museum, with its twin elephant skeletons at the entrance. You can even see Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal, in the National Museum.
Learn about the dark deeds of Burke and Hare, famous body snatchers, killers, and suppliers of cadavers to the University. They were caught out when one of their victims, a local prostitute, was recognised on the dissection table by one of the medical students. You can see the skeleton of William Burke in the Anatomy Museum and his death mask, as well as a book bound with his skin, in the Surgeons Hall Museum. Whilst you are there, hear about the teachers who influenced a young Charles Darwin, or read the letter from Conan Doyle to his mentor, Joseph Bell, personal surgeon to Queen Victoria and the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Finally, when you have soaked up all the modern day discoveries in endocrinology after a full day at SfE BES, take a dip into endocrinology past and mingle with the ghosts over a drink in the Doctor’s.