History of MS (4): Robert Carswell (1793-1857)

The first description of the pathology of MS was made by Robert Carswell, a pathologist of the mid 19th century.

  • During a postmortem, Carswell found lesions in the spinal cord of an unfortunate subject. 
  • Unaware of their cause, he recorded their gross appearance and made a hand-painted illustration of the lesions (above).
  • The illustration and description were published in 1838 in his Atlas of Pathology.
  • Despite Carswell’s major contribution in describing the pathology of MS lesions, he did not record any clinical associations with his observations.

    “Why is important? To define a disease you need to link the pathology to the clinical presentation and clinical characteristics of the disease; the so called clinico-pathological correlate. He did not do this therefore the definition of MS could not be attributed to Carswell; in other words we can’t refer to MS as Carswell’s disease.” 

“Carswell was clearly a very talented artist; his illustrations are simply beautiful!”

Other relevant postings on the history of MS:

01 Jul 2011
History of MS (3): Sir August d’Esté (1794-1848). After St. Lidwina the next historical description of MS appeared in 19th century; a personal account of the illness by Sir Augustus d’Esté, the illegitimate grandson of 
26 Jun 2011
“I believe that studying or being aware of the history of MS is important; it may provide important insights into the origins of the disease and important clues to its cause.” Possibly the earliest known description of a 
23 Jun 2011
History of MS (1): Russell Brains Monologue. Murray T. Russell Brains Review of MS. Int MS J. 2011 May;17(2):50-3. In 1930 there were many conflicting views on the cause, incidence, precipitating factors, inheritance and 

2 thoughts on “History of MS (4): Robert Carswell (1793-1857)”

  1. I really dislike the combination of 'multiple sclerosis', much prefer Carswell's disease… oh well, not to be, I guess

  2. I actuslly prefer the term 'multiple sclerosis'. It has more of an edge to it.Prof G, please upload pics of iMAN aLI on to your blog. Nice to see that such a pretty face can develop such an insideous disease and still look so grand. Made me realise just how indiscriminate MS is.

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