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Surgery of Thymus Gland


The origin of the name of the thymus gland is unclear. The name may have been derived from a perceived resemblance between the gland and the herb thyme; alternatively, it may have been derived from the Greek word thymos, meaning soul or heart, presumably in reference to the intimate anatomic relation between the thymus and the heart.

The first description of the thymus gland was by the Italian anatomist Giacomo da Capri (1470-1550). The Swiss physician Felix Platter reported the first case of suffocation due to hypertrophy of the thymus gland in 1614. The first indication of an association between myasthenia and the thymus gland was in 1901, when the German neurologist Hermann Oppenheim reported a tumor found growing from the thymic remnant at necropsy in a patient with myasthenia.

The report by Oppenheim led the German thoracic surgeon Ernst Sauerbruch to perform a cervical thymectomy in 1911 on a 20-year-old woman with a radiologically enlarged thymus who had myasthenia. He reported that the myasthenia was markedly improved after the surgery, but resection of thymomas in patients with myasthenia at that time was accompanied by a high mortality.

In 1936, Alfred Blalock performed a transsternal total thymectomy during a remission period from severe myasthenia.
By 1944, he had accumulated experience in 20 cases, firmly establishing the role of thymectomy in the treatment of these patients.

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