A Brief History of the Department


The University of Western Ontario received its charter from the Provincial Legislature in 1878 and teaching began in the Faculty of Medicine in 1882. From 1882 to 1888 the Medical School consisted of a five-room cottage in north London and, in 1888, it was replaced by a more substantial building a few blocks from Victoria Hospital. The next building, erected in 1921, was directly across the street from Victoria Hospital, and it was used until the move to the main campus in 1965. Until the creation of departments in 1913 there were Professors in the various subjects, together with such junior staff as demonstrators in the dissecting room. The Professors of Anatomy were practicing physicians, either in general practice or doing surgery in addition to conducting a general practice. The first Chair of Anatomy, Dr. W.I. Waugh, gave the first lecture in the Medical School beginning at 8:00 a.m. on October 1, 1882. He occupied the Chair of Anatomy for four years and his successors were as follows: Dr. J.M. Jackson (1886-1889), Dr. W.J. Mitchell (1889-1897), Dr. H.T. Williams (1897-1903), Dr. E. Seaborn (1903-1911) and Dr. E.L. Williams (1911-1913). In addition to teaching gross anatomy these men were responsible for neuroanatomy and what little reference that was made to embryology. There was also a combined Chair of Histology and Pathology from 1882 until 1902, with Dr. D.B. Fraser as Professor. He continued as Professor of Histology until 1908, and Dr. N.H. Beal then held the position until 1913.

The year 1913, signaled the beginning of a new era. Dr. Paul S. McKibben, who held a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, was appointed Professor of Anatomy, full-time, and Head of a newly-created Department of Anatomy. Dr. McKibben was a first-rate teacher and administrator. His reorganized teaching program consisted of courses in gross anatomy, histology, neuroanatomy and embryology. He was appointed Acting Dean in 1919 and Dean of Medicine in 1921 and he was responsible, more than any other single person, for the Faculty of Medicine receiving an “A” rating in 1926. Dr. McKibben resigned in 1927, taught briefly at the University of Michigan, and was subsequently appointed Dean of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Substantial research in the Department of Anatomy began with the appointment of Dr. C.C. Macklin as Professor of Histology and Embryology, and his wife, Dr. Madge T. Macklin, as a part-time assistant professor in 1921. He established an international reputation for his work on the functional anatomy of the lung and bronchial tree, while she made substantial contributions in the field of human genetics. Dr. Macklin succeeded Dr. McKibben as Professor of Anatomy in 1927, and Dr. H.A.L. Skinner joined the department the following year to teach gross anatomy. In 1934 the department was divided into a Department of Anatomy under Dr. Skinner and a Department of Histology and Embryology under Dr. Macklin. This arrangement continued until Dr. Macklin was named Research Professor in 1945, at which time histology and embryology were once again brought into the Department of Anatomy. However, in 1953 Dr. M.L. Barr was named head of a new Department of Microscopic Anatomy, which was responsible for teaching histology and neuroanatomy. This arrangement continued until 1964, when Dr. Barr became head of a reconstituted Department of Anatomy on the retirement of Dr. Skinner. Dr. Barr served as Department Head from 1953 to 1967 and during those years he gained an international reputation for his pioneering research in human cytogenetics. This work originated with the discovery of sex chromatin by Dr. Barr and E.G. Bertram, in 1948 and went on to address the anomalies of the sex chromosome complex as the basis of a number of genetic disorders. Dr. Barr’s work was acknowledged the world over and he received many honours and awards in recognition of his important contributions. In 1965 the Medical School moved to the main campus and the basic science departments became affiliated with the Faculty of Science and later, the Faculty of Dentistry. With the introduction of programs in Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Kinesiology, Nursing and Communicative Disorders the mandate of the department expanded further to include training in Anatomy to a whole variety of health-related professional programs. To accommodate the increased teaching demands the department increased rapidly in size to include fifteen full-time faculty members. Dr. Barr resigned as Head in 1967 and Dr. R.C. Buck, a noted electron microscopist and histologist, became Chairman of the department. He was followed by Dr. D.G. Montemurro in 1973, Dr. AH.. Martin in 1978 and Dr. P.K. Lala in 1983. Dr. Lala was a successful researcher in the Department of Anatomy at McGill University and he remained Chair for two terms, when the graduate program flourished to become a leader in Canada.  Dr. Lala was engaged in research on placental biology and human cancer. His research led to a highly promising clinical trial for treating advanced melanoma and kidney cancer patients at the London regional cancer centre. He trained many students and post-doctoral fellows who became successful scientists. He continues to conduct research today as an active Professor Emeritus. In 1995 he was succeeded by Dr. B.A. Flumerfelt who had joined the department as an MRC Scholar in 1971 and served as Assistant Dean - Research from 1981 to 1984. Dr. Flumerfelt's research focused on Neuroscience and movement disorders and his laboratory served as a training ground for many students who went on to successful careers in research.

Since Dr. Barr left the Chair in 1967 the department has undergone many important changes. A new medical curriculum with a different philosophy and approach was introduced in 1973 and a substantial amount of time and effort was devoted to making it a success. This curriculum remained in place for twenty-three years and it was well received by students and faculty alike. In 1996 it was replaced with a curriculum that is “patient centred and student based” and it is currently undergoing a significant revision and reorganization. Although Dr. Barr’s legacy was felt by the department for many years through the cytogeneticists that he trained and/or hired, other fields of research gradually became more prominent. Electron microscopy was an increasingly important tool during the 1970's and into the 1980's and both scanning and transmission EM were used in much of the research being conducted within the department at that time. Neuroscience became a discipline in its own right and many laboratories within the department conducted research in this field. Cancer research also became increasingly prominent and it continues to be an important area of research within the department to this day. Reproductive biology and embryology were pursued in some laboratories, cardiovascular and dental research in others. The 1990's saw the introduction of many molecular techniques and tissue culture began to gradually supplant whole animal research. The department soon became a leader in gap junction research.  In recognition of the major research strengths within the department, its name was changed to the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology in 1996.

The training of graduate students has been an important component of our activities for many decades and the graduates of our program can be found in Anatomy departments throughout Canada and the world. Today, the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology has evolved into a modern research and teaching enterprise with a tradition of excellence in Anatomy and an emerging reputation for research and training in Cell Biology and Neurobiology. In 2003, a Division of Clinical Anatomy was created and in 2005 a popular new Master's Program in Clinical Anatomy was introduced. In 2005 a new Honours Program in Cell Biology was also introduced jointly by the Departments of Biochemistry and Anatomy & Cell Biology. Between 2010 and 2012, a PhD program in Clinical Anatomy emerged.

Between 2002 and 2006 the Department has undergone a major physical renovation so it is now housed in new facilities in the Medical Sciences Building and the Dental Sciences Building. With the appointment of Dr. Michael Lehman to succeed Dr. Flumerfelt as Chair in December, 2005, the department resurged as a leader in research and graduate education with foci in cellular, developmental, reproductive and cancer biology and neurobiology. After one term, in December 2010, when Dr Lehman left to take up the Chair of Anatomy and Cell biology at the University of Michigan, Dr Kem Rogers was appointed as the acting Chair, and then the Chair in 2012. Dr Rogers joined the department in 1985 , establishing a strong track record in cardiovascular research. The future of the department looks bright and full of promise. However, we are very much aware of our rich past and the many individuals who have devoted their careers to building this department since that first anatomy lecture in 1882.

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