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A short history of physiology
Article in Acta Physiologica · August 2011
DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.2011.02286.x · Source: PubMed
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Nicolaas Westerhof
Amsterdam University Medical Center
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Acta Physiol 2011
A short history of physiology in the Netherlands
N. Westerhof
Departments of Physiology and Pulmonary Diseases, Institute for Cardiovascular Research (ICaR-VU), VU University Medical Center,
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Physiology is a branch of biology dealing with the
functions and vital processes of living organisms, their
parts and organs. In the later years of the Renaissance
the dissection of human corpses, although still not
permitted, became possible (Michelangelo, 1475–1564).
The start of human anatomy can be considered to be the
work of Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica,
(1543), the same year that Nikolaus Copernicus published his book on the revolution of the planets around
the sun.
The start of physiology is commonly considered to be
in 1628, with the publication of Harvey’s (1578–1657)
book: Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (An anatomical exercise on the
motion of the heart and blood in living beings). This
book became almost immediately known to the Dutch
medical scientists. In other words, physiology in the
Netherlands started soon after 1628, thus first half of
the 17th century.
I will give a short description of what may be called
the first ‘Golden age of physiology’ in the Netherlands.
This period is followed by one age of ‘consolidation’.
Then I will present a rather detailed description of the
‘Second golden age of physiology’. I will end with giving
my views on present day physiology and its future.
Thus, I will divide this review in the following
sections (Fig. 1):
1628–1750 (‘Golden age of physiology’)
1750–1850 (‘Consolidation’)
1850–1975 (‘Second golden age of physiology’)
1975–present (‘Loss of Identity?’)
Golden age of physiology 1630–1750
Very soon after the appearance of Harvey’s book,
Dutch physiology started to blossom. The most important researchers in what we can now consider physiology deserve a short discussion. I will use the term
physiologist loosely. In Figure 2 the most important
physiologists of the period are depicted.
• Franz dele Boë (Franciscus Sylvius), was born in
Hanau, now Germany, 15 March 1614 and died in
Leiden 19 November 1672. He was a Dutch medical
doctor, and professor at Leiden, as well as a scientist
(chemist, physiologist and anatomist). He was also an
early supporter of R. Descartes, J.B. van Helmont and
especially William Harvey. He understood Harvey’s
work and theory well, and brought the concept of
circulation of blood to the Netherlands. Sylvius was
mentor of Johannes Walaeus, Niels Stensen, Jan
Swammerdam and Reinier de Graaf.
Jan de Wale (Johannes Walaeus, Koudekerke, Walcheren, 1604–Leiden, 1649), studied philosophy and
medicine in Leiden and later became professor at
Leiden. He first objected to Harvey’s theory, but
Sylvius convinced him of its correctness. Walaeus is
considered the founder of Dutch experimental physiology. He performed the so-called venous occlusion
experiment to give support of the concept that blood
returns to the heart, as part proof of the circulation.
Niels Stensen (Nicolaus Steno, Kopenhagen, 10 January 1638–Schwerin, 26 November 1686), was
anatomist and physiologist and a student of Sylvius.
He discovered the lymphatic system, and proposed
that the heart is an ‘ordinary’ muscle. He worked for
a considerable time in the Netherlands and had
contacts with the other physiologists, especially Jan
Swammerdam. Although born form Lutheran parents, he later converted to the Roman-Catholic faith,
and could therefore not be promoted to professor. He
left the Netherlands and became Bishop in Germany
(Kooijmans 2007).
Jan Swammerdam (Amsterdam, 12 February 1637–
Amsterdam, 17 February 1680) observed at an early
age that muscle volume remained constant during a
shortening contraction. He promoted the possibilities
of the microscope consisting of two lenses, and was
the first to report on the function of red blood cells.
He wrote a book on the respiration (Respiratione,
1667) and a book on insects that was re-published in
1737 with a foreword by Boerhaave and Gaubius.
This book was written in Dutch: ‘Alles in Hollandse,
des Auteurs Moedertale’ (All in Dutch the author’s
mother tongue). This can be considered one of the
first signs that Latin as the scientific language was
Reinier de Graaf (Schoonhoven, baptized 30 July
1641–Delft, buried 17 August 1673) was a gynaecologist and gastrointestinal physiologist at Delft. He is
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Acta Physiol 2011
Figure 1 Physiology in the Netherlands:
main events.
best known for his studies of the function of pancreas
in the living dog. His Roman-Catholic faith excluded
him from a professorship.
• Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek (Delft, 24 October
1632–Delft, 26 August 1723); was a so-called ‘Physicist’ at Delft. Van Leeuwenhoek was educated as a
bookkeeper and casher in Amsterdam. He started his
rather lucrative drapery business in Delft in 1654.
Having expertise in glass blowing, he made his own
single-lens microscopes with a better resolution than
the microscopes consisting of objective and ocular of
the time as used by Swammerdam. Van Leeuwenhoek
observed, among others, muscle fibres, bacteria,
spermatozoa and blood flow in capillaries and corresponded his findings from 1674 through ‘Sendtbrieven’, to the Royal Society and was elected as a
member of the Royal Society (London) in 1679/80.
He died a rather rich man.
• Herman Boerhaave (Voorhout, 31 December 1668–
Leiden, 23 September 1738) received his doctoral
degree from the University of Harderwijk. He held,
for some time, three of the five professorships in
medicine at the University of Leiden. He was a
botanist (director of the botanical garden at Leiden),
chemist, humanist and a physician of world fame. He
held the thesis that the pathology of an organ can
only be understood from knowledge of its normal
function. We can consider him as the founder of
clinical teaching. His main achievement was to
demonstrate the relation of symptoms to lesions. He
had great interest in physiology, but was not a pure
physiologist. However, as we will see that in the
middle of 19th century physiology was initiated and
begun by clinicians to give medicine a scientific basis,
we mention him here.
• Jeroen Gaub (Hiëronymus David Gaubius, Heidelberg, 1705–Heidelberg 1780) studied, for personal
reasons in the Netherlands at the University of
Harderwijk, then went to Leiden, where he was a
student of Boerhaave. He held the scientific proof that
mind affects body and body affects mind. In 1758, his
textbook of pathology (in Latin) appeared that
Figure 2 Physiologists of the first Golden
Age of Physiology in the Netherlands.
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Acta Physiol 2011
remained the standard text of pathology for almost
100 years.
I believe the medical researchers of this ‘Golden age
of physiology’ can be called physiologists, even though
their interests were many. The physiologists were very
well informed about new theories and developments,
and Harvey’s model of the circulation was readily
accepted. In other words, these researchers had international contacts and also knew each other. Most of
them travelled, three were foreign born. Van Leeuwenhoek may not have travelled much but his international
contacts were very good, especially his membership of
the Royal Society of London. By the end of the 18th
century, the scientific language changed from Latin to
Consolidation 1750–1850
After 1750 a standstill followed. This so-called ‘Consolidation’ period lasted for about 1100 years (Lindeboom 1981). It was not a local phenomenon but was
generally seen in Europe in the (medical) sciences. It was
especially clear in the Netherlands as can be seen from
the following examples. While the use of thermometer
in the clinic was introduced by Anton de Haen, a pupil
of Boerhaave in the middle of 18th century in Vienna,
and used in daily clinical practice, this instrument was
not used in Utrecht until 100 years later. Also in the
middle of 19th century, the microscope was not
introduced to medical students in Leiden. Teaching in
physiology consisted of reading Latin texts (Gaubius’
textbook was still the standard); also auscultation
(invented by Auenbrugger and introduced in the clinic
by Laënnec in 1819) was not or hardly used in 1850.
The origin of standstill of medical sciences seems to
be the result of rise in philosophical idealism in
Germany, mainly under the influence of I. Kant’s
(1724–1804) and F.J.W. von Schelling’s (1775–1854)
‘Natur Philosophie’: the intelligent human is able to
understand the natural phenomena; experimental, science-based approach, is not necessary (Lindeboom
Around 1840, a number of young medical doctors in
Germany became proponents of the concept ‘medicine = science’ and proposed that science should be
introduced into the medical curriculum. This ended the
romantic philosophical period, in part also thanks to
Rudolf Virchow (1820–1902), founder of cellular
pathology. Especially his text Die Cellularpathologie
in ihrer Begründung auf physiologische und pathologische Gewebelehre (‘Cellular pathology as the basis of
physiological and pathological histology’) of 1858,
where the cell was introduced as the smallest unit of
the organism, made it convincingly clear that most
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Æ Physiology in the Netherlands
diseases are based on the cellular processes. This
concept helped to convince the medical profession that
physiology, as it was perceived then, forms the basis of
(internal) medicine and should be introduced in the
medical curriculum.
Second golden age of physiology 1850–1975
New names
By the end of 18th century, some need existed to
intensify communication and exchange. This resulted in
the foundation of a number of ‘Genootschappen’
(Societies). One of them is the still existing ‘Genootschap ter bevordering van de Geneeskunde’ (Society for
the promotion of Medine) that later was extended to
‘Genootschap ter bevordering van Natuur-, Genees- en
However, in the middle of the 19th century, a real
strong revival of the sciences (Charles Darwin, 1859,
the Origin of Species; Dmitri Mendelejev, 1869, the
periodic table) and the strong growth of technology
(steam locomotives and railroads, first steel steamship
crossed the Atlantic, 1852) took place all over Europe.
Several specialized branches of the medical sciences
arose: gastrointestinal physiology (William Beaumont,
1785–1853); pathology and cell physiology (Rudolf
Virchow, 1820–1902); bacteriology (Louis Pasteur,
1822–1895, Ignaz Semmelweis, 1818–1865 and Robert
Koch, 1843–1910).
In integrative physiology, it is Claude Bernard (1813–
1878) who can be considered the first true general
physiologist, but others were prominent too: Ivan
Pavlov, 1849–1936 psychophysiology; Charles Sherington, 1857–1952 (neurophysiology), Carl F.W. Ludwig
(1816–1895) and Ernest Starling, 1866–1927 (cardiovascular physiology and hormones), Henry P. Bowditch
1840–1911 (1871, first physiological laboratory for
students in the USA).
New journals
In the middle of the 19th century also many new
journals of physiology originated. In Germany in 1835,
the Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medicin (until 1876) was founded. In 1842 and
1844, the Archiv für physiologischen Medicin and the
Zeitschrift für rationelle Medicin followed. In 1847,
the Archiv für pathogische Anatomie und Physiologie
und für klinische Medicin, was founded by R. Virchow
and B. Reinhardt (now called Virchows Archiv). In
1854, Albrecht von Graefes Archiv für Ophthalmologie (now called Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and
Experimental Ophthalmology) was founded; and in
1862 Fresenius’ Journal of Analytical Chemistry,
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Physiology in the Netherlands
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Acta Physiol 2011
originally called Zeitschrift für analytische Chemie
started. Pflügers Archiv (now Pflügers Archiv European Journal of Physiology) started in 1868, while the
Journal of Physiology (London) was established in
1878; and somewhat later, in 1898 the American
Journal of Physiology was begun. The Journal de
Physiologie (Paris) began in 1906. At present there
exist more than 120 journals with the term ‘physiology’ in their title.
The Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde (the
Netherlands Journal of Medicine, NTvG), founded in
1857, played an important role in the communication
between physiologists, and between physiologists and
clinicians in the second half of the 19th and early 20th
century. Table 1 (Heteren van 1991) gives an overview
of the (retrievable) publications of the professors of
physiology between 1850 and 1950 of the four original
medical schools. It may be seen that the NTvG was
used for more general information as well as for
publication of research articles. The sections in the
journal, next to Research, namely News, Opinion,
Clinical practice, Perspectives and Varia, contain many
subjects of more general interest on which the physiologists had an opinion. The interest of the physiologists in general aspects of society, medicine and
education with respect to research is also made
quantitative in Table 1. Most physiologists published
their research articles in German journals. Einthoven
published only six articles on research in the NTvG,
but 33 articles in international journals. It should also
be noted that most research articles of the physiologists, quite contrary to present day articles, were singleauthored.
The Netherlands makes up its arrears
The international change affected the Netherlands as
well, where it was given extra impetus after the, (un?)
founded, publication by Moleschott, (then at Heidelberg, originally from Leiden, later in Italy) that medical
sciences in the Netherlands were running behind
compared with other European countries. The Dutch
originator of the change appears to be J.L.C. Schroeder
van der Kolk (1797–1862) with his work in neurology
and experimental physiology, but the real driving force
of the developments in physiology was F.C. Donders in
Utrecht. The law of 1868 by J.R. Thorbecke ended the
complex system of diplomas and introduced a single,
country-wide, diploma to practice medicine in the
Table 1 Publications of Professors of Physiology at the Dutch universities; second half 19th and first half 20th century
NTvG (res)
Utrecht University
FC Donders
H Zwaardemaker
AKM Noyons
J Jongbloed
Groningen University
I van Deen
D Huizinga
HJ Hamburger
FJJ Buytendijk
University of Amsterdam
A Heynsius
W. Kühne
T Place
GA van Rijnberk
Leiden University
A Heynsius
W Einthoven
GGJ Rademaker
JW Duyff
NTvG, Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde (total number with number of research articles in parentheses; EJP, Pflüger’s
Archiv, European J Physiology; Fres, Fresenius’ Journal of Analytical Chemistry; Grea, Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology; Virch, Virchows Archiv; Ergeb, Ergebnisse der Physiologie, biologischen Chemie und experimentellen
Pharmakologie; JoP, J of Physiol (Lond); AJP, American J of Physiology. The information on EJP, Fres, Grea, Virch, Erg, and other
is obtained from Springer’s Archives.
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Acta Physiol 2011
These changes, together with the wish for scientific
underpinning of medicine implied that physiology
became mandatory in the medical curriculum, and that
the physiology as basic medical science needed laboratory facilities.
Physiology develops rapidly from 1848
Between 1848 and 1866, all four Universities in the
Netherlands that offered a medical curriculum, nominated a professor of physiology and built a research
laboratory. The first professors of physiology at the
Dutch Universities were: F.C. Donders (Utrecht, 1848–
1869), I. (sometimes J.) van Deen (Groningen, 1851–
1869), A. Heynsius (Amsterdam, 1858–1868). Heynsius
later moved to Leiden and was there the first professor
of physiology (1866–1885). A complete overview of the
professors (chairpersons) of physiology from 1858 to
present is given in Table 2.
The research performed was very closely related to
clinical problems. The clearest example is, of course,
Donders at Utrecht who combined, as professor of
internal medicine, his clinical duties with his professorship in physiology. It is also interesting to note that the
early professors of physiology published on many
subjects, usually as single author, and often in the form
of rather short publications. Professors of physiology
were also involved in more public affairs. Examples are
D. Huizinga’s book: Schetsen uit het leven (Images from
life); and books for grade school pupils; Hamburger was
vice-president of a society to expand permission to enter
university for graduates of the secondary school HBS
and not only students with a gymnasium (‘latin’ school’)
diploma (Gemert van et al. 1989, Westerhof 2010,
WWW document).
Many physiologists of the first century of organized
Dutch physiology (1850–1950) were member of the
editorial board of NTvG; A. Heynsius, I. van Deen, W.
Einthoven and especially G.A. van Rijnberk who was
editor in chief, then called gérant, from 1913 to 1946
(Heteren van 1991, Quak 2005). Figure 3 shows the
portraits of the professors (chairs) of physiology until
Teaching. Most teaching of physiology to medical
students was in a format of classroom lectures with
occasional demonstrations. It was van Rijnberk who,
with his appointment in 1909, was the first to organize
laboratory teaching, including animal experiments. This
was an international trend with Henry P. Bowditch as the
first in the USA. Almost all professors wrote or contributed to textbooks of physiology, most of which in Dutch.
An example is van Rijnberk’s textbook of physiology in
the 1930’s and 1940’s entitled: Neederlandsch Leerboek
der Physiologie, which appeared in seven volumes.
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Physiology’s second growth
After the Second World War, we see several changes
taking place in the universities that affected physiology.
Four new medical schools were begun, each with a
department of physiology. In 1950, the Vrije University
of Amsterdam founded a medical school, after the
unsuccessful first start with F.J.J. Buytendijk in 1919
who, in 1925 became professor of physiology in
Groningen. The first professor of physiology at the
Vrije Universiteit was A.Th. Knoppers, who left after
only 2 years for industry, and was succeeded by
A.W.J.H. Hoitink in 1953. The (now) Radboud University in Nijmegen started with a medical school
including physiology in 1951, where F.J.A. Kreuzer was
the first professor. The Erasmus University in Rotterdam began with a medical school in 1966, where M.W.
van Hof, was the first professor. Maastricht University
founded in 1974, set-off with a medical school with R.S.
Reneman as the first professor of physiology. In
summary, by 1974 there were eight universities with
medical schools in the Netherlands, each with its
department of physiology.
Physiological research in the Dutch Universities
Utrecht University. The physiology in Utrecht, starting
with F.C. Donders, was oriented to the sensory system.
Originally, vision was the main theme. Donders was a
giant in many aspects and had broad interests; he became
most famous for his work on vision. Donders was
followed by W.Th. Engelmann who was mainly interested in neuromuscular physiology. Engelmann returned
to Germany in 1897, and his successor was H. Zwaardemaker who worked on sensory physiology of smell and
taste and on phonetics. Both had other interests too:
Engelmann studied the isolated heart, and Zwaardemaker studied the biological meaning of radiation with
Professor L.P.H. Eijkman, a brother of C. Eijkman who
received the Nobel Prize of Medicine or Physiology. His
theory of radiation in relation to impulse formation of the
heart was shown to be incorrect by Yngve Zotterman.
I mention here two physiologists of great fame.
Rudolph Magnus (Braunschweig, Germany 1873–Switzerland 1927) was professor of pharmacology at
Utrecht University with interest in neuropharmacology
and neurophysiology, from 1908 until his sudden death
in 1927. Rudolf Magnus worked in Liverpool in 1908
on the physiology of stature-movement and muscle
tension. This physiological work made him world
famous, and, as was learned 50 years later, it formed
the basis of his nomination for the Nobel Prize of 1927.
Unfortunately, he died suddenly in the summer of that
year. The Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neurosciences is
named after him. Herman J. Jordan (Parijs 1877–Zeist
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A Heynsius
1858 – 1868
I van Deen
1851 – 1869
D Huizinga
1870 – 1901
FC Donders
1848/54 – 1888
ThW Engelmann
1889 – 1897
HD Bouman
1947 – 1948
MJN Dirken
1949 – 1956
R Brinkman
1956 – 1960
WG Walter / WG Zijlstra
1960 – 1977/1960-1990
C Rashbass
1977 – 1982
J Jongbloed
1942 – 1965
PA Biersteker
1966 – 1988
WL Mosterd
1988 – 1993
HJ Jongsma
1993 – 2002
MA Vos
2003 – present
HWGM Boddeke 1998 – pres.
Dept Neuroscience
D Kernell
1997 – 2000
GA v Rijnberk
1909 – 1946
FJJ Buytendijk / R Brinkman
1925 – 1946 / 1933 – 1956
AKM Noyons
1928 – 1941
AA Verveen
1969 – 1970
JW Duyff
1946 – 1969
GGJ Rademaker
1927 – 1946
W Einthoven
1885 – 1927
A Heynsius
1866 –1885
Part Embr &Anat
JH Ravesloot
2001 – present
LN Bouman
1985 – 1997
Clinical Sciences
WJ Rietveld
1980 – 2000
FJA Kreuzer
1951 – 1985
GJ Tangelder
1996 –present
N Westerhof
1994 – 1996
AA Knoop
1969 – 1994
MW van Hof
1966 – 1993
RJM Bindels
2007 – present
MA Post
2004 – present
MA Allessie
Dept Neuroscience 1990 – 2004
RS Reneman
1974 – 1990
Erasmus University Maastricht University
CH van Os / B Oeseburg
H Collewijn
1989 – 2007 / 1989 – 1999 1993 – 2002
AWJH Hoitink JA Bernards
1953 – 1969
1985 – 1988
ATh Knoppers
1950 – 1952
FJJ Buytendijk
1919 – 1924
Leiden University VU Amsterdam Radboud University
JThF Boeles / LN Bouman GJ Tammeling
1953 – 1985/1971 –1985 1971 – 1980
J ten Cate
1946 – 1957
T Place
1871 – 1909
H Zwaardemaker HJ Hamburger
1897 – 1927
1901 – 1924
W Kühne
1869 – 1871
University of Amsterdam
Utrecht University Groningen University
Table 2 Professors of Physiology at the Dutch Universities (‘Ordinarius’/Chairman only)
Physiology in the Netherlands
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Figure 3 Professors, chairs, of Departments of Physiology between 1850
and 1945.
1943) was educated in Germany and received his PhD
degree in Bonn, Germany (Jong de 2002). He attended
the 9th International Congress of Physiology in Groningen in 1913 and, through his contact with Magnus,
was appointed at Utrecht University, where he became
professor in 1915 and full professor in 1918 in
physiology/zoology in the school veterinary medicine,
and founded an institute (Zoologisch Station Den
Helder). He was forced to retire in 1942 in the middle
of the Second World War and died in 1943.
A.K.M. Noyons, first continued the research line
started by Zwaardemaker but, with his successor,
J. Jongbloed, got interested in the effects of acceleration
on the body. Jongbloed was very interested in space and
sports physiology, but also played an essential role in
the development of first heart-lung machine. W.L.
Mosterd and P.A. Biersteker again were interested in
sports physiology, but research in cardiac physiology
also took place. H.J. Jongsma shifted the direction to
the electrophysiology of the (cardiac) cell. His most
important contribution was the electrical interaction of
cardiac cells through gap junctions. Integrated cardiac
electrophysiology from cell to organism is the research
theme at present under the leadership of M.A. Vos.
University Groningen. I. van Deen was born in
Germany, and educated at Copenhagen University,
Denmark. He assumed de name Deen, and performed
research neuro-physiology. His successor D. Huizinga
was interested in blood and its components, and also in
‘Abiogenesis’ (the study of how life on earth could have
arisen from inanimate matter). Subsequently, H.J.
Hamburger became professor (Gemert van et al.
1989). He obtained a degree in chemistry followed by
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a degree in medicine under Donders. His general
concept was that physico-chemical principles play an
important role in physiology and thereby also in
medicine. In 1913, he organized the 9th International
Congress of Physiology at Groningen, the predecessor
of the IUPS meetings (Westerhof 2010, WWW document).
F.J.J. Buytendijk after his medical study, changed his
interests, via biology and then clinical neurology, to
psycho-physiology with the emphasis on psychology.
R. Brinkman chaired a section of physiological chemistry from 1933 onwards. This group became an
independent laboratory with Brinkman as chairman.
While Brinkman concentrated on chemical physiology
H.D. Bouman was appointed in physiology and after
only 2 years he was succeeded by M.N.J. Dirken. In
the following interim period between 1956 and 1960
R. Brinkman was chairman of physiology and in 1960
left to chair the department of Radiopathology. In
1960, the department was split into two, and W.G.
Walter and W.G. Zijlstra were appointed as chairs of
the two departments of physiology (Walter 1961).
Walter’s research was in neuromuscular physiology
and Zijlstra’s work was in organ physiology, with
emphasis on blood chemistry and oxygen transport. In
1977, Walter was succeeded by C. Rashbass who stayed
till 1982. Zijlstra retired in 1990. After an undetermined period, physiology consolidated into a single
laboratory of medical physiology with Kernell as
chairman. After Kernell left, the physiology as department was dissolved. An institute of neurosciences was
formed, where H.W.G.M. Boddeke, since 1998, is
responsible for physiology. J.A. Bernards and L.N.
Bouman the authors of the textbook Medische Fysiologie were, in later editions (2008), joined by Boddeke.
University of Amsterdam. The physiology in Amsterdam began with physiological chemistry of blood, the
main interest of A. Heynsius. Later Heynsius also
published about the circulation and respiration. Heynsius left after 10 years for Leiden and W. Kühne
succeeded him. Kühne was born in Hamburg, now
Germany, and studied with all great physiologists of
the time: Emil du Bois-Reymond at Berlin, Claude
Bernard in Paris, and Carl F.W. Ludwig in Leipzig,
now Germany and Ernst W. von Brücke in Vienna,
Austria. Kühne was a top researcher working mainly in
chemical physiology (of blood) and he coined the word
‘enzyme’. Also nerve-muscle physiology was his interest. T. Place, his successor, published only a few
articles on the nervous system. His successor was G.A.
van Rijnberk, a very colourful person, was educated in
Italy, and had an immense knowledge of art. He was a
great teacher both feared and adored by the students
but was more a teacher and organizer than a
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researcher. He published only a few research articles
but edited a textbook of physiology. (see above). He
was editor in chief of the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor
Geneeskunde from 1913 to 1946, and his editorial
comments were many (hundreds). When he celebrated
his 25th anniversary of his professorship, an overview
of his work was published in the book entitled: Een
greep uit het werk van van Rijnberk (1934). His
successor, J. ten Cate, who was born in St. Petersburg,
Russia, and a descendant of Dutch merchants that
moved to Russia in the 18th century. He studied
medicine in Moscow, Berlin and Paris. He worked with
Pavlov in St Petersburg before coming to Amsterdam,
which influenced his research interests: conditional
reflexes and electroencephalography are keywords of
his research. J.Th.F. Boeles and L.N. Bouman were,
interchangeably, chairman of the department of physiology. Boeles studied nerve action in the broadest
sense, from motor nerves to sympathetic nervous
effects on the heart. Bouman’s main research was the
electrophysiology of the heart, with emphasis on the
pacemakers and the conduction system. Bernards and
Bouman wrote the textbook Fysiologie van de mens. In
later editions, Boddeke joined them and the title
changed to the present one: Bouman, Bernards en
Boddeke, Medische Fysiologie (2008). After the retirement of Boeles and then of Bouman, the position
remained open for a few years, but in 2001 H.J.
Ravesloot filled the position of professor of physiology.
His main interest was cellular physiology. In 2009, the
department of physiology merged with the department
of anatomy and embryology to form the department of
Anatomie, Embryology and Physiology.
Leiden University. A. Heynsius, became the first
professor of physiology in Leiden, after having this
position for 10 years in Amsterdam. Physiological
chemistry of the blood and its constituents was his
primary interest and later he also published about
the circulation and respiration. His successor was
W. Einthoven, who defended his doctoral thesis in
Utrecht under the supervision of F.C. Donders, and
became full professor of physiology at the age of 25 in
1885. Einthoven was most famous through his work on
electrocardiography for which he received the Nobel
prize in 1925. The study of electrocardiography
required physical and technical expertise, which Einthoven picked up during his medical studies when he
worked with physicists like C.D.H. Buys Ballot and
others. Next to the electrical phenomena of the heart he
was interested in neurophysiology, especially the influence of the brain on body position and movement.
Einthoven was succeeded by G.G.J. Rademaker, neurophysiologist and neurologist, who was a pupil of Rudolf
Magnus (Braunschweig, Germany 1873–Switzerland
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1927). Magnus was professor of pharmacology at
Utrecht University with interest in neuropharmacology
and neurophysiology, from 1908 until his sudden death
in 1927. The Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neurosciences
is named after him. He wrote textbooks in German,
French and English (sensory system, vision, hearing and
vestibular function). In 1946, he left physiology for
neurology. Between 1946 and 1969, J.W. Duyff was the
professor of physiology at Leiden. He played an
important role in the resistance movement during the
Second World War. He was a very good organizer,
and was editor in chief of Acta Physiologica et
Pharmacologica Neerlandica from 1950 to 1969. He
was (vice-) editor of the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor
Geneeskunde (NTvG) from 1956 to his sudden death in
1969. His main interests were vision and audition and
his articles were mostly published in Acta Physiologica
et Pharmacologica Neerlandica and the NTvG. He also
wrote a short review on Dutch physiology (Duyff 1952).
Professor Duyff as chairman of Physiology organized
the now appropriately called 22nd IUPS meeting in
Leiden in 1962. Duyff was succeeded by G.J. Tammeling, and under his chairmanship four groups were
formed: biological chance processes; chronobiology and
the adaptation to the external milieu; respiratory
physiology and physiological physics. W.J. Rietveld
who was Tammeling’s successor was interested in and
published many articles on chronobiology. The physiology became part of a department of clinical sciences in
VU University Amsterdam (formerly Vrije Universiteit
of Amsterdam). After the first attempt to start a school
of medicine (1919–1924), the medical school at the
Vrije Universiteit (Now called VU University) started in
1950. A.Th. Knoppers was the first professor of
physiology, but left for industry in 1952. His main
interest was pharmacology. A.W.J.H. Hoitink succeeded him in 1953; he was a physiologist with very
broad interests and recently retired from Batavia
(Indonesia). One of his research subjects was ballistocardiography, then a newly proposed technique (Jongbloed 1951) given a physical basis in Utrecht by H.C.
Burger and A. Noordergraaf. A.A. Knoop, his successor
began in 1969 and initially continued this research
direction. However, ballistocardiography was too complex for interpretation and clinical application. It was
therefore decided to concentrate the entire laboratory
on cardiovascular physiology, with strong emphasis on
haemodynamics. After a bridging period of 2 years by
N. Westerhof, G.J. Tangelder, member of the department of physiology at Maastricht University, became
chairman of physiology. Presently, the department
covers cardiovascular physiology from molecule to
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Æ Physiology in the Netherlands
Radboud University Nijmegen (formerly Catholic University Nijmegen). With the foundation of the school of
medicine in, what is now called Radboud University,
professor F.J.A. Kreuzer was chosen as head of the
department of physiology. Kreuzer came from Switzerland, worked in the departments of physiology at
Fribourg, Switzerland, Sheffield, UK and Dartmouth
NH USA, before coming to Radboud University.
His main interest was oxygen transport by blood
and diffusion, and he developed oxygen electrodes.
J.A. Bernards treaded in the steps of Kreuzer and
worked mainly on the effects of pulmonary gas embolism on circulation and respiration. Bernards, with
Bouman, and later Boddeke are the authors of the
textbook Medische Fysiologie (Bouman et al. 2008).
Bernards was followed by C.H. van Os and his interest
was the physiology of water and salt management and
cell biology of the kidney. R.J.M. Bindels succeeded van
Os and carries out research on transport physiology in
epithelia of the kidney and intestine, especially the
molecular and cellular physiology of electrolyte transport. Presently, the department of physiology exists of
three research groups: integrative physiology, ion transport and osmoregulation.
Erasmus University Rotterdam. The department of
physiology started in 1966 with Professor M.W. van
Hof as chairman. Van Hof studied the physiology of
brain function in the widest sense. He retired in 1993
and his successor was H. Collewijn who mainly studied
vision and the vestibular system. In 2002, the department was dissolved and became part of Neurosciences.
Maastricht University. In 1974 with the start of new
university at Maastricht, R.S. Reneman founded the
physiology, and was soon joined by F.I.M. Bonke.
Reneman was educated as an anaesthesiologist in
Utrecht and worked several years with Janssen Pharmaceutica before joining Maastricht. The research was
concentrated on the cardiovascular system, namely,
electrophysiology of the heart, cardiac and large artery
function, and with special attention to the microcirculation. Also the development of ultrasound techniques
should be mentioned. M.A. Allessie, followed Reneman
in 1990, and he studied electrophysiology of the heart
with special emphasis on atrial fibrillation. Presently,
M.A. Post is chairman of the department and his main
research interests are angiogenesis/collateral formation
and vascular healing and remodelling after arterial
Societies and meetings
International. Following the decision of a group of
physiologists in 1885 regular, international, meetings of
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physiology started with the 1st International Congress
of Physiology at Basle, Switzerland, in 1889.
These meetings were held every third year (excepting
1916, 1941 and 1944), and physiologists from Europe
and the America’s participated. The last, 18th meeting,
was held in 1950 in Copenhagen Denmark. Subsequently, the international meetings were organized by
the International Union of Physiological Scientists.
These meetings, being a continuation of the international congresses started in 1953, with the first IUPS
meeting counted as the 19th congress. After 1989 the
IUPS meetings were held every 4th instead of every third
year. The 37th meeting will be in Birmingham, England
in 2013.
In 1913, Hamburger organized the 9th International
Congress of Physiology at Groningen (Westerhof 2010,
WWW document). The number of participants was 594
and 150 presentations (26 from the Netherlands) were
given. The prize for the best Dutch doctoral dissertation
is named after Hamburger and is awarded yearly since
1987, by the Netherlands Society of Physiology. Among
the presentations of this meeting was one by J.G. Dusser
de Barenne (1885–1940). Dusser de Barenne studied
medicine in Amsterdam, worked and was lecturer at
Utrecht University and went to Yale (New Haven, CT,
USA) in 1930 to set up a laboratory of neurophysiology.
He died of coronary disease in 1940. The oeuvre-award
of the Netherlands Society of Physiology is named after
Dusser de Barenne.
Professor J.W. Duyff chairman of Physiology at
Leiden organized the, now appropriately called 22nd
IUPS meeting in Leiden in 1962. This was a very large
international congress.
Europe. As the forming of FEPS, the Federation of
European Physiological Societies (Federation European
Societies of Physiology, FEPS 1991, WWW document),
there are also meetings for mainly European physiologists. Presently, the physiological societies of 31 countries (counting England and Ireland as 1) contribute to
the FEPS. The first three meetings were in Maastricht
(1995), Prague (1999) and Nice (2003). Subsequently,
so-called joint meetings were organized by a combination of host country and the FEPS. Examples are the
joint meeting of the Physiological Society and FEPS in
Bristol, UK (2005); the German Physiological Society
and FEPS, Munich Germany (2006); the Slovak Physiological Society and FEPS, Bratislawa, Slovakia (2007);
the Slovenian and Austrian Physiological Societies and
FEPS, Ljubljana Slovenia (2009). The following joint
meetings are planned: the German-Scandinavian Physiological Societies and FEPS, Copenhagen, Denmark
(2010); the Turkish Physiological Society and FEPS,
Istanbul, Turkey (2011); the Spanish Physiological
Society and FEPS, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
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(2012); the Hungarian Physiological Society and FEPS,
Budapest, Hungary (2013). The journal of the FEPS is
Acta Physiologica, formerly the journal of the Scandinavian Physiological Society: Acta Physiologica Scandinavica.
National. The first, founding, meeting of the Nederlandse Vereeniging voor Physiologie en Pharmacologie
(Netherlands Society of Physiology and Pharmacology)
was held April 15, 1916 (van Rijnberk 1916). It was the
first ‘Day of Physiology’, a whole day (Saturday) with
about 100 participants: physiologists, practicing physicians and medical students. The start of this society
shows a definitive break with anatomy. About 1950 the
society’s name changed from Nederlandse Vereniging
voor Physiologie en Pharmacologie to Nederlandse
Vereniging voor Fysiologie en Farmacologie, to adhere
to the changed Dutch spelling rules.
In 1975, the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Fysiologie
en Farmacologie decided to rearrange their organization
by splitting into two sections: Physiology and Pharmacology, but continuing as a single society. However,
nice an idea, in 1979 an official divorce followed, and
from then on physiologists were united in the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Fysiologie.
National meetings. The members of the Nederlandse
Vereeniging voor Physiologie en Pharmacologie convened several times per year up to about 1960. The
meetings were announced in the Nederlands Tijdschrift
voor Geneeskunde, and the location rotated between
the universities. Occasionally, a foreign sister society
was invited. For instance, in 1925 a meeting was held in
Leiden, with members of the ‘Physiological Society’ of
the UK. That meeting included a visit to Amsterdam. In
1958, the meeting was held in Amsterdam together with
the Belgisch Genootschap voor Fysiologie (Belgian
Society of Physiology), and in 1975 there was a
combined meeting in Gent with the Belgisch Genootschap voor Fysiologie.
In 1959, the Nederlandse Federatie van Medisch en
Biologische Verenigingen (Dutch Federation of Medical
and Biological Societies) started to organize meetings
broader than physiology alone, mainly animal biology,
in the Netherlands, and many physiologists participated
in these meetings. However, it was felt that a regular
exchange of developments in physiology was more
useful, and in 1973 yearly meetings of the Nederlandse
Vereniging voor Fysiologie began.
Papendal symposia
The first so-called Papendal-meeting was organized in
1973, they were fall meetings. This meeting evolved, in
1984, into a 2-day symposium of physiology, without
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pharmacology and on a regular, yearly, basis. The later
started Young Physiologists Day (1997) was originally a
separate meeting in the spring, where the young
physiologists could exchange ideas with presentations
and posters. In 2004, this Young Physiologists Day was
incorporated in the Papendal Symposium. Thus, from
2004 the Papendal Symposium is a 2-day symposium, in
early December, with the first day devoted to the Young
Physiologists, and in the evening the lecture of the
Hamburger Prize recipient. The second day is on a
general aspect of physiology with Dutch and foreign
expert speakers. While the location, the conference
centre Papendal, will be changed the name of the yearly
meeting will remain as known as Papendal-meeting.
Physiologists convent
In 1961, the question arose how (some) medical
students who wished to be a physiologist should be
educated. This idea was based on a similar action of the
pharmacologists. Also there was a proposal to organize
a country-wide first year of the medical curriculum. To
discuss these matters and other, more general aspects,
such as nominations of new Professors of physiology in
the Netherlands, professor Boeles chairman of physiology at the university of Amsterdam and on suggestion of
Prof. J.W. Duyff at Leiden, in 1966, asked all colleagues
(seven at the time, and eight after 1974) to form the
Physiologists Convent. To keep the number of participants small it was decided to let one representative per
university participate. It turned out that this was almost
always the department chairman. The convent started
to make an inventory of the physiology courses in the
different universities, but found that the physiology
curriculum differed too much to come to a core
curriculum. Other subjects, such as the problems with
Acta Physiologica et Pharmacologica Neerlandica were
also discussed (see below). After the 1980’s the meetings
were held less and less frequently. The impression is that
the convent was not sufficiently united and did not
sufficiently emphasize the importance of physiology in
research and, especially teaching.
Writing format of articles. Up till the Second World
War most scientific publications of the Dutch physiologists were in German journals and only few were in
French and English journals, Also a substantial number
of publications appeared in the Nederlands Tijdschrift
voor Geneeskunde.
Originally scientific articles were based on a format,
where the authors’ thought processes that gave rise to
the results were presented and defended in the order in
which the experiments were carried out (Suppe 1998).
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Æ Physiology in the Netherlands
See for example the article by Engelmann (1870). This
argumentative structure was gradually abandoned in
the early 20th century. Now, the generally accepted
format of articles appeared in the American Journal of
Physiology in the early part of the 20th century and it
became standard after in the 1930s. In the Netherlands,
this format was then not commonly accepted yet. See
for instance the article by Duyff (1946) and compare it
with a modern article. However, in the 1950s this
standard form of articles became common in the
Netherlands as well.
Dutch journals. With the start of organized physiology
in 1916 (van Rijnberk 1916), it was still generally felt
that publications had to appear in Dutch contexts. The
Archives Néerlandaises des Sciences Exactes et Naturelles, published by ‘la Société Hollandaise des Sciences à
Harlem’ started in 1866 and lasted until 1911.
In 1918, a successor journal was started, entitled:
Archives Néerlandaises de Physiologie de l’Homme et
des Animaux. In 1927 Archives Néerlandaises de
Phonétique Expérimentale (1927–1947) split off, and
in 1931 another journal appeared entitled Acta Brevia
Neerlandica de Physiologia, Pharmacologia, Microbiologia (in short Acta Brevia). It was a merger of Archives
Néerlandaises de Physiologie and Acta Brevia that
formed, in 1950, the Acta Physiologica et Pharmacologica Neerlandica. This new journal, with J.W. Duyff
as editor in chief, was very modern in layout. It
appeared four times a year, the languages were English,
German and French, but most articles were in English.
Abstracts were presented in three languages. The
journal also published abstracts of the meetings of the
Nederlandse Vereniging voor Fysiologie en Farmacologie, and can be considered as the journal of the
Netherlands Society of Physiology.
By 1968, it became clear that Dutch researchers were
more and more preparing their articles for international
English-language journals, and that Acta Physiologica
et Pharmacologica Neerlandica, having a rather small
number of subscribers, could not attract enough articles. Meanwhile Pflügers Archiv was exploring changing into a European Journal of Physiology. In a letter to
the editors of Pflügers Archiv by Boeles as chairman of
the Physiologists Convent, it was mentioned that Acta
Physiologica et Pharmacologica Neerlandica was ‘in der
Agone’ (in agony). However, the Dutch Physiologists
Convent was hesitant and no countries supported this
idea of making a European Journal of Physiology, and a
new European journal was not formed. In January
1975, Pflügers Archiv was indeed transformed into
Pflügers Archiv European Journal of Physiology (First
volume 361). The last volume (number 15) of the Acta
Physiologica et Pharmacologica Neerlandica appeared
in 1969, and the journal was absorbed by European
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journal of Pharmacology in the same year. The titles of
the articles in Acta Physiologica et Pharmacologica
Neerlandica can be found in PUBMED, but the
abstracts and full articles of the journal are not
electronically available. However, paper versions are
obtainable in the university libraries of Leiden and
VUmc library. Between 1907 and 1957, the Dutchlanguage journal Tijdschrift was in existence. The editor
was van Rijnberk and the journal was mainly meant for
the broad general public.
The Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde still
exists but is presently little used by physiologists for
Loss of identity?
Professors of physiology performed not only teaching and
research but had also societal interest (see Table 1). They
mainly published in the ‘Nederlands Tijdschrift voor
Geneeskunde’, and not only research articles but also
notes and papers on general subjects. Also physiologists
regularly published in newspapers about developments in
medicine, especially in the late 19th and early 20th
century. A later example is J. Jongbloed who wrote
regularly in Utrechts Nieuwsblad (the daily newspaper of
Utrecht) about space physiology. Furthermore, professors of physiology worked in general very closely with
clinical researchers, this was how physiology was initially
started, namely to give medicine a scientific basis. After
Second World War, especially in the 1960s and 1970s the
number of (medical) students increased enormously. Also
societal relevance of the medical research became more
and more important.
In the same period, research in the medical sciences
became divided in a number of specialized areas. This
was, in part, the result of the great successes in cell
biology, molecular biology, and somewhat later genomics and protein biology. In 1977, the American Physiological Society decided to split the American Journal of
Physiology into a number of sections. This decision was
unavoidable as specialization of researchers made it
impossible for them to read all news in physiological
research. Nevertheless, these developments resulted in
decrease in recognition of physiology as the science of
‘functions and vital processes of living organisms, their
parts and organs’. From the 1980’s researchers, including professors where evaluated on the basis of research
articles (especially citations), leaving, next to teaching,
and the increased administrative duties, even less time
for other activities. For example, J.W. Duyff was the
last physiologist who was (vice)-editor in chief of the
Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde.
Also the Physiologists Convent did not propose a
united country-wide programme for teaching and
research had grown too far apart from direct clinical
Acta Physiol 2011
applications, it became almost a separate discipline (too
little translational research). These observations may
have led to the idea that there is no need for separate
departments of physiology.
At present the translation of the enormous amount of
knowledge gathered in sub-branches of biology such the
cell, molecule and gene is not sufficiently studied in the
context of the function of the organ or organism as a
whole. At the cellular level ‘systems biology’ was started
about 1990, where an interaction of many complex
mechanisms is combined to understand overall cellular
function. This approach requires the use and construction of computer models (Alberghina & Westerhoff
2008). Also, recently NOW the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) with the
programme ‘Centres for Systems Biology Research’
stimulates and funds research from molecule to organism. Luckily physiology at the organ and organism level
is moving in that direction as well. To better understand
the physiology the step upwards to the organ or
organism is made through the so-called physio(no)me
(Bassingthwaighte 2000).
Research. In his review, C.A. Pekelharing (1848–1922,
professor of physiology, comparative anatomy and
pathology at Utrecht University) in 1907 made it clear
that the good medicine is based on the scientific
approach (Pekelharing 1907). From the 19th to far in
the 20th century physiology was the leading basic
science and was integrated with the clinical sciences.
For example, Alfred Noble created the ‘Nobel Prize in
Physiology and Medicine’ rather than a prize in
medicine. The specialization in the research, i.e. to cell,
molecule and gene, moved physiology further away from
direct clinical practice. However, it is becoming more
and more clear the translation of this basic knowledge
to the organ an organism level is necessary. This is not
only seen in the IUPS Physiome Project (IUPS), WWW
document but also recognized by NWO (the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) with its
‘NWO-programme complexity’. At the physiological
level this is materializing through the IUPS Physiome
Project (IUPS), WWW document, a worldwide public
domain effort to provide a computational framework
for understanding human and other eukaryotic physiology. A related approach is Computational Physiology
(Hunter & Nielsen 2005), from Genome to Physiome or
Physionome ‘physio’ (life) + ‘ome’ (as a whole). In short,
it appears that collaboration and computers are key
words with good translational research as goal.
Organization, research and teaching. In 1990, the
medical school (‘Faculty’) and the hospital of the
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University of Amsterdam were the first to form a
University Medical Center: the Academic Medical
Center of the University of Amsterdam, the AMC. By
the late 1990’s and early 2000’s all Dutch Universities
had followed. The basic sciences like physiology and
anatomy originally departments of the University,
became part of the Academic Medical Center or the
University Medical Center, as well as the clinical
The research in physiology in the Netherlands is thus
forced to make its research efforts more translational,
and physiology as a ‘stand alone’ scientific approach
will probably disappear. I see a future for physiological
research as a strong translational field between genetic/
cellular research and its clinical applications, but not
necessarily taking place in separate departments of
The teaching in the University Medical Centres is
more and more organized on the basis of organ systems,
where cell, anatomy, physiology and clinical specialties
all participate. This construction makes physiology as
an entity less clear. However, the subjects should not
disappear and be given by physiologists. Thus, the
departments of physiology also have an opportunity to
not only integrate their classroom teaching but also
build up, together with the clinical departments,
practical courses.
A report released by the Association of American
Medical Colleges (AAMC) in June 2009, entitled:
Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, emphasizes that physicians must have a firm grounding in
the biomedical sciences and understand their relation
to the physical sciences and mathematics (Long &
Alpern 2009). This is an approach, where the
teaching by the physiologist is essential. The physiologist as teacher should integrate these subjects to
improve understanding the function of the organs and
The physiologists should also keep in mind that their
teaching may help in the education of physicianscientists. Most often, physician-scientists either become
pure clinicians or focus all of their energy on basic
sciences, thus playing the same role as PhD-trained
biomedical scientists, while they should form the core of
the translational research effort.
I urge the physiologists in the Netherlands to make a
teaching programme that convinces the directorates of
the University Medical Centers in the Netherlands that
physiology is indispensable in the medical education.
The teachings should not only confer essential physiological knowledge to all medical students but should
also prepare, even a few of them, for future collaborative research between clinicians and physiologists.
Departments may disappear but physiology does not
and physiologists are indispensable.
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Æ Physiology in the Netherlands
Conflict of interest
The invaluable assistance of Connie Pieksma is greatly appreciated. I thank Professors Lennart Bouman, Gerrit Mook, Carel
van Os, Dirk Ypey, and Marc Vos for their corrections and
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2011 The Authors
Acta Physiologica 2011 Scandinavian Physiological Society, doi: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.2011.02286.x