The Loh Down On Science

Gross but incredible: What an American-frontier doctor learned from a gunshot wound

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Illustration depicting Dr. William Beaumont (1785-1853) experimenting with digestive juice by tapping a fistula in the stomach of Alexis St. Martin. Undated colored drawing.

If a nineteenth century fur trapper had the stomach for this amazing tale, so can you!

This is Sandra Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

This comes thanks to scientists at a recent Experimental Biology symposium in Boston.

The subjects? trapper Alexis St. Martin and his doctor, William Beaumont.

St. Martin was accidentally shot in the stomach in 1822. He surprised everyone, including Beaumont, by surviving the ordeal.  This, despite a gastric fistula . . . a permanent opening that formed when his outer wound fused with the hole in his stomach.

It was this fistula that gave Dr. Beaumont his own opening into the workings of the human digestive system.

After a skeptical St. Martin agreed, Beaumont performed 238 experiments on St. Martin’s innards over 8 years. Yikes! Some involved putting food tied to string into the fistula, then pulling it out periodically to check digestion. Ew!  Among his many discoveries? Beaumont showed that hydrochloric acid is the main chemical that breaks down food.

And what about “holey” St. Martin? He actually outlived the good doctor, fistula and all.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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