Santiago Ramón i Cajal: biography of this pioneer of neuroscience

Santiago Ramón i Cajal (1852-1934) is recognized as one of the founders of contemporary neuroscience. Indeed, his work in histology and anatomy has played a decisive role in the description of the functioning of our neural networks. In addition, his biography is full of stories related not only to science, but also to art and even military activity.

In this article we will a review of the biography of Santiago Ramón i Cajal, Reviewing some of the most representative elements of the life and work of one of the most important scientists of the twentieth century.

    Brief biography of Santiago Ramón i Cajal: who was he?

    Santiago Ramon and Cajal was born on May 1, 1852 in Petilla d’Aragon, in northern Spain. He was the son of a surgeon who then trained as a physicist.

    Although he would become one of the most important scientists in history, Ramón and Cajal’s preoccupations during his teens and youth were very focused on art and physical activity, and not so much on schoolwork. . Yet and although it did not seem to have any relation, these artistic agitations were fundamental abilities for the training and scientific development of Ramon and Cajal later.

    At the age of 16, he and his father carried out various anatomy studies based on drawings made by Ramon i Cajal himself. it was one of his first approaches to anatomy and art, In addition to being one of the antecedents of his interest in the practice of dissection.

    In 1873, Ramon and Cajal he graduated from the Zaragoza medical school. Here he had followed the teachings of the German Theodor Schwann, a researcher specializing in the study of the cell as the basic structural unit of all living organisms.

    Later and in the political context of the conflict experienced in Spain, Ramon and Cajal took the place of military doctor in the services of the Spanish army. In this context, he spent a few months in Cuba and it was not until his return to Zaragoza that he continued his studies of histology and anatomy.

    In 1879, when he became associate professor at the University of Zaragoza, where there was also a physiology laboratory that allowed him to approach studies carried out under a microscope. That same year, he formed a family with Silveria Frañañás, with whom he had seven children.

    In 1881 was integrated like professor in the University of Valencia, and later in the universities of Barcelona and Madrid. On this last city, she founded the laboratory of biological investigations, in 1922, now known as the Cajal Institute, One of the most important neurobiology research centers in the world.

      The foundations of contemporary neuroscience

      Santiago Ramón y Cajal, along with Italian anatomist Camillo Golgi, was the first histologist to suggest that neurons are the main structures and functional units of the nervous system, And that they are, in addition, structures which connect directly to each other, but which are relatively autonomous.

      In other words, thanks to his research, it was possible to know that neurons are cells that communicate with each other through different elements that are distributed in cell spaces (like axons). This laid the foundation for the development of neuroscience as we know it today.

      To be able to analyze the individual structure of neurons, Ramón and Cajal he used a test called “silver staining method”, which Camillo Golgi had developed. Through this test, the two researchers discovered that the nervous system functions as a kind of mesh or network.

      This meant an important contribution, as it was previously believed that the nervous system was made up of separate cells, which communicated by continuity (Golgi himself thought of the latter).

      The development of their research and the perseverance of Ramón and Cajal in the development of the coloring method, allowed them to obtain sharp images of nerve endings and suggest that neurons communicate in contiguity, through the branches of dendrites and axons that connect neural bodies.

        The legacy of this Spanish researcher

        The use of the silver chromate staining method began with the study of brain embryos of birds and small mammals. Especially with the brains of embryos, this allowed them to obtain clear stains of the gray matter of the brain, which then moved on to the study of human neuronal activity.

        For all of the above, in 1906 the two researchers won the Nobel Prize in Physiology. Additionally, all of his work has been compiled into a book that has become one of the classics of neuroscience: The Nervous System of Man and Vertebrates.

        Finally, although Ramon i Cajal did not directly study neuropathology, much of the knowledge and research he developed has been used to understand the functions and alterations of neural systems.

        Bibliographical references:

        • González, M. (2006). Santiago Ramón i Cajal, one hundred years after the Nobel Prize. Sciences, 84: 68-75.
        • New World Encyclopedia. (2015). Santiago Ramón i Cajal. Accessed June 13, 2018. Available at http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Santiago_Ramón_y_Cajal.

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