Neurology is one of the most recent sciences. The first scientific research into the brain mechanisms at the origin of various diseases is barely a hundred years old.
One of the most important personalities who have addressed the neurological causes of various disorders, and a pioneer of neurosurgery, is Joseph Babinski who, in addition to giving his name to a reflex present in infants, has significantly contributed to the development of neurology and psychiatry.
In this article we will see a brief biography of Joseph BabinskiWe will explain what his research consisted of and what was his role in the establishment of modern neuroscience.
Biography of Joseph Babinski
Joseph Jules François Félix Babinski is a neurologist born November 17, 1857 in Paris., And died in the same city on October 29, 1932, at the age of 74.
Of Polish origin, his parents decided to flee Poland after the invasion of Czarist Russia which sought to stifle the country’s demands for independence.
Babinski grew up in Paris and, in his early years, was educated at the Polish school of Batignolles.
In 1879, he was assigned as a trainee in the service of Victor André Cornil at the Hôtel-Dieu, An institution whose purpose was to provide aid to orphans, the needy and pilgrims administered by the Church.
He was then able to study medicine in Paris, graduating in 1884. That same year he had the opportunity to work as manager of the Jean-Martin Charcot clinic at the Salpêtrière. The following year, he managed to complete his thesis: Anatomical and clinical study on multiple sclerosis.
Babinski was adopted by Charcot as one of his favorite disciples. In addition to exerting a notable influence on him, Joseph Babinski took as a reference other illustrious figures of medicine of the time, such as Legrand du Saulle, Ranvier, Vulpian and Cornil himself, with whom he had worked. years ago.
At first he wanted to continue his university education, but he was unlucky. The reason why he was not accepted as a new professor at the university is that he did not pass the exam, along with another candidate, Gilles de la Tourette. This was in part due to the poor relationship between his mentor Charcot and the selection board. After being rejected for the first time, Babinski chose to give up.
In 1890 he was able to work as a clinical chief in La Pitié, As he would remain until his retirement in 1922.
Research and work
Babinski focused his research on discover the mechanisms involved behind psychological disorders and diseases of the nervous system. It was quite common at that time to classify various diseases when they had unknown causes: hysteria.
By practicing at La Pitié, in 1896 Babinski he managed to identify the phenomenon that would later bear his surname: the Babinski sign. This sign implies that there is a reflection in the soles of the feet which causes them to stretch out. In a healthy adult, it is normal for the foot to flex in the face of this type of stimulation. The origin of this abnormal reflex is due to lesions of the pyramidal tract.
After the discovery, Babinski published a short article titled On Skin-Plantar Reflexes in Certain Organic Damage to the Central Nervous System.
It should be noted that before noticing this phenomenon, the German E. Remake had already described it, but without knowing exactly its neurological origin. In addition to that, it is Babinski who succeeded in using the presence of this erratic reflex as a criterion in the differential diagnosis between hysterical and organic hemiparesis, Attributing its origin to a faulty nervous system.
In 1898 he republished an article on the same subject. He reported that he was unable to find this sign in patients with hysteria. After other years, in 1903, he republished a new article, explaining that the appearance of reflexes in the soles of the feet occurred when the pyramidal system was injured in adults, but also he explained that in healthy children this same reflection could be found.
Infants do not have a fully developed pyramid system, which is why they exhibit this sign. On the phylogenetic level, the appearance of this reflex in adulthood is a step back from a stage where complete control of locomotion has not yet been achieved.
His studies on hysteria
Babinski was not only known for the reflex which bears its own last name. At the time, he managed to become famous because it caused a huge scandal in the Salpêtrière. Although he initially shared Charcot’s praxis and his own ideas about hysteria, over time he changed his mind. Outraged, found that some cases of hysteria had a strong auto-suggestion componentSeeing that perhaps they could be healed by persuasion exercised by another person.
In addition to this, he discovered that to some extent, doctors like Charcot and his colleagues were indirectly the ones who generated the hysterical symptoms, Influence patients. This declaration caused a sensation in the Salpêtrière.
Babinski has played a key role in research into certain diseases. An example of this is adipogenital syndrome, described in 1900 and later called Babinski-Frölich disease.
This disease leads to the interruption of the development of the sexual organs, in addition to having an excessive accumulation of fat in different parts of the body, headaches and diabetes insipidus. Its origin is a dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis.
Death and inheritance
Joseph Babinski he was one of the pioneers in the field of neurosurgery, A discipline which at the time hardly gave the first signs of life. He introduced this field through two works: The section of the external branch of the spinal cord in the so-called mental torticollis (1907) and The decompressive craniectomy (1991).
He was also known to be one of the first French to undergo surgery in areas of the nervous system. In 1922, he located a tumor in the spine and removed it.
Ten years after this great event in his life, Babinski died in 1932 of Parkinson’s disease.
this scientist served as an example and guide for various neurologists, being one of his most notable disciples Egas Moniz, Which in turn was one of the precursors of prefrontal lobotomy. His own disciples produced, after his death, a work in which several of Joseph Babinski’s studies have been collected (Scientific Work, 1934)
- Philippon J, Poirier J. (2009) Joseph Babinski. A biography. New York, United States. Oxford University Press,
- Massie R. (2004). Charcot and Babinski: beyond a simple teacher-student relationship. The Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, 31, 422-426.