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, 105 (6), 1877-80

Ibn al-Nafis, the Pulmonary Circulation, and the Islamic Golden Age


Ibn al-Nafis, the Pulmonary Circulation, and the Islamic Golden Age

John B West. J Appl Physiol (1985).


Ibn al-Nafis (1213-1288) was an Arab physician who made several important contributions to the early knowledge of the pulmonary circulation. He was the first person to challenge the long-held contention of the Galen School that blood could pass through the cardiac interventricular septum, and in keeping with this he believed that all the blood that reached the left ventricle passed through the lung. He also stated that there must be small communications or pores (manafidh in Arabic) between the pulmonary artery and vein, a prediction that preceded by 400 years the discovery of the pulmonary capillaries by Marcello Malpighi. Ibn al-Nafis and another eminent physiologist of the period, Avicenna (ca. 980-1037), belong to the long period between the enormously influential school of Galen in the 2nd century, and the European scientific Renaissance in the 16th century. This is an epoch often given little attention by physiologists but is known to some historians as the Islamic Golden Age. Its importance is briefly discussed here.


Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Approximate time line showing the period of the Islamic Golden Age and the long influence of the teachings of the Galen School.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Scheme of the circulation of the blood according to the school of Galen. From Ref. , with permission.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Section of the Arab text from the Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon by Ibn al-Nafis dealing with the pulmonary circulation. This extract states that there is no connection between the two cavities of the heart (right and left ventricles) and that blood cannot pass through the (interventricular) septum. From Ref. .

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