- In this time of increasing intolerance of immigrants and other cultures, it is worth remembering contributions made by people from different cultures to medical science throughout history.
- A British-Asian Muslim physician is one of those who made important contributions to modern science.
Mahomed was born in 1849 in Brighton, the UK for a Bengali family. His grandfather Sake Dean Mahomed had been a soldier in the East India Company.
The Muslim physician earned his medical doctorate degree from the University of Brussels in 1874 and joined the staff at Guy’s Hospital in London as the medical registrar.
His first achievement as a medical student was to improve the sphygmogram, which had been introduced seven years before in Paris. A sphygmogram is a tracing that illustrates the various elements of a heartbeat or pulse and blood pressure.
Mahomed’s sphygmogram was the first to have units of measurement, and he described the consequence of various maladies and aging on the heartbeat and blood pressure. He was awarded the Pupil’s Physical Society Prize from Guy’s Hospital for this work.
A quote from his first paper illustrates his clinical insight, “The pulse, ranks the first among our guides; no surgeon can despise its counsel, no physician shut his ears to its appeal. Since, then, the information the pulse affords is of so great importance and so often consulted, surely it must be to our advantage to appreciate fully all it tells us.”
To advance at an English hospital, Mahomed needed a degree from an English school, so he went back to school in Cambridge to earn a bachelor of medicine in 1881, then became an assistant physician at Guy’s Hospital.
His studies revealed that high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a standalone event that leads to kidney damage. He showed that people who appeared healthy could suffer from hypertension and that it could also affect the heart, kidney, and brain. He described that people could be predisposed to hypertension and that it had a genetic component.
Many of Mahomed’s accomplishments weren’t immediately embraced by his colleagues, but he remained undeterred. He led the development of the Collective Investigation Record, which was the precursor to our modern-day collaborative clinical trials.
He was the first to use blood transfusions to treat the intestinal bleeding that occurs as a complication of typhoid fever, and he made important contributions to surgery for appendicitis.
He also proved that facial appearance had nothing to do with tuberculosis, contrary to the common belief of the time.
The brilliant Muslim biologist died in 1884 after suffering from a typhoid infection he had likely acquired from a patient. He was only 35 years old.
Even 134 years later, Mahomed’s career is an example of what a young physician-scientist can accomplish in the face of resistance from dogmatic older colleagues. It’s a shame that his life and career were so short and that we’ll never know what else he may have accomplished.