Damien Ihrig, MA, MLIS
Curator, John Martin Rare Book Room
The University of Iowa is a worldwide leader in cleft palate research and repair, so we thought it only appropriate to recognize National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month.
Many of you have no doubt heard of the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, with its famous collection of anatomical specimens and medical instruments. The namesake of the museum, Thomas Dent Mütter, was a 19th-century American surgeon who overcame personal tragedy to become a renowned surgeon and educator.
One area that fascinated him was cleft palate and lip repair. This month's book, A report on the operations for fissures of the palatine vault, written by Mütter and printed in 1843, details his straightforward repair for a cleft palate.
The earliest evidence of cleft lip repair comes from the Jin Dynasty (265-420 CE) in China. The earliest detailed description of a repair is from Jehan Yperman (c.1260–c.1331), a pioneering medieval Flemish surgeon. The first known detailed description of a cleft palate comes from 16th-century French surgeon Pierre Franco (1505-1578). Franco emphasized the importance of the palate to speech development and the congenital origin of the malformation.
Clefts could also be caused by syphilis, however, and during the 16th and 17th centuries, surgical repairs were not advised. Instead, our old friend, Ambroise Paré, along with the Portuguese surgeon Amatus Lusitanus (aka João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco), wrote of using obturators - custom prosthetic devices used to close the palate.
Interest in surgical repair continued, though, especially for congenital clefts. By the 19th century, several Fench surgeons had devised their own methods for repair, including Guillaume Dupuytren, whom Mütter trained with while continuing his medical education in Paris.
Read more below about Mütter, his connection to cleft repair, and more.
Stay well and happy reading!
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