E ducated at Cambridge (MD, 1896), Murray studied in Paris and Berlin and returned to the United Kingdom in 1890 to take an appointment as a pathologist at the University of Durham. He was engaged as part of a larger committee to investigate the cause of myxedema, a widespread disease with prominent signs and symptoms: Bulging eyes, increased body weight, mental confusion, and, often, goiter. This disease, found also in sheep, was variously labeled Grave's or Basedow's Disease. In 1873, Sir William Withey Gull (1816-90), one of the early promoters of anorexia nervosa as a diagnosis, had postulated that the disease was the result of the atrophy of the thyroid gland. Earlier, in 1855, the great Parisian researcher Claude Bernard (1813-78) had developed the notion that there was internal secretion from the thyroid (and other glands) that had a regulating effect on bodily systems. Gull had, in fact, diagnosed one of his patients who had shown "general increase of bulk ... Her face altering from oval to round" as suffering from some type of thyroid insufficiency (Gull 1874: 315).
Murray also hypothesized that the disease was the result of an insufficiency of thyroid production, but he sought to treat this disease through the replacement of the thyroid secretion. He ordered sheep thyroids from a slaughterhouse, had them removed in an antiseptic manner, strained them through a handkerchief, and prepared emulsions of dried sheep thyroid in glycerin. Despite being scoffed at by his colleagues, who claimed that it would be as likely to treat locomotor ataxia with an emulsion of spinal cord, he injected the thyroid extract into a patient with myxedema and was completely successful on his first such attempt with the treatment.
Murray published his results in 1891 and thus began the field of therapeutic endocrinology. With the successful reduction of symptoms in myxedema, including weight loss, thyroid extract quickly became part of the therapy for obesity. Indeed, the claim of endocrinologists after the beginning of the twentieth century was that all obesity was the result of such pathological states. In
1924, the editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association published an editorial entitled "What Causes Obesity?" In it, they argue, following a powerful antipsy-chological strand in obesity research that began in the late nineteenth century, that obesity is the result of a malfunction of normal metabolic processes. When obesity is viewed as a "scientific problem," they write, the "fat woman" will be freed from the stigma that she "has the remedy in her own hands—or rather between her own teeth" (Anonymous 1924: 1003). The subsequent use of thyroid extract and then "synthroid" (artificial thyroid extract) as a therapy for obesity is often successful as it creates a state of hyperthyroidism, a pathology, which is noted by extreme weight loss (and many other symptoms). Thus, ironically enough, one pathology is treated through the creation of another.
See also Gull
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