Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Science in a Golden Age - Al-Razi, Ibn Sina and the Canon of Medicine

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Modern high-tech advances in medicine and health

are of course the result of many centuries of development, research, and experimentation

much of which took place in the Islamic world between the 9th and 14th centuries

A "Golden Age" of science

During this time, scholars in the Islamic world made huge contributions to medicine,

and created a body of knowledge that was tremendously important and influential around the world

for many hundreds of years.

I'm Jim al-Khalili, British professor of theoretical physics, but born in Baghdad.

I'll be exploring state-of-the-art biomedical science

and uncovering the contribution made to the field by the scholars of the Golden Age.

It was during the Islamic Golden Age that medicine started to be treated as a true science

with emphasis on empirical evidence

and repeatable procedures.

During that time, medical books were written that became standard texts throughout the world for many hundreds of years.

I've come here to the Hamad Hospital in Doha, Qatar, to see the how the ideas of the scholars from

the medieval Islamic world compare to our modern medicine.

The hospital's neonatal unit deals with premature and newborn babies

who are suffering from a variety of conditions.

It's the only one of its kind in Qatar

and babies are referred here from across the country.

[Dr. Lutfi:] All in all, through our doors,

we probably have close to 17 to 18 hundred babies.

And that amounts to about 10 to 11 percent of the total births [in Qatar], that occurs in this hospital.

So it is, by comparison,

one of the biggest units in the world.

We do look after babies who are as small as 23 or 24 weeks gestation.

So we are looking at a 5 months pregnancy, 5 months and 1 week pregnancy, basically

[Al-Khalili:] And that in itself is incredible, I mean not that long ago, 23, 24 week old gestation -

There's no way they'd survive outside the womb.

Absolutely. And we've come a long way.

At this hospital, they're carrying out pioneering research

to improve the treatment of babies born with neonatal encephalopathy.

That is, babies born with serious neurological damage

because of a problem with oxygen or blood supply in the womb.

The gold standard of treatment is putting these babies on a cooling mattress

to try to reduce their temperature

and limit the potential ongoing damage that could ensue in the brain

However, it does not really provide an appropriate success rate world wide

Here we're trying a simple remedy that we believe has potential

which is the addition of a drug called magnesium sulfate

that has never been tried in combination with the cooling method.

[Al-Khalili] To improve the reliability of their research,

The hospital's using what we call a "control group."

Some of the babies receive magnesium sulfate.

Whereas a separate group, the control group, don't receive it.

This allows the hospital to compare fairly the effects of the treatment with and without the drug.

So this particular study is a double blind placebo control

which means that we are offering some of our babies a placebo

and some who are getting the magnesium sulfate - we don't really know which are which, and that's -

That's - otherwise we'd be biased, exactly

One thing that's of tremendous interest to me is that this idea of a control group

actually goes all the way back over a thousand years

to a Persian physician by the name of Ar-Razi

who built the first hospitals in Baghdad

who was looking into the causes and treatments of meningitis

and I believe he had not only his sample of patients, but he had a control group

to which he wasn't administering the treatment, in that case it was bloodletting, which we know isn't the way you treat meningitis -

But the idea of a control group goes all the way back to Ar-Razi

This is actually one of the most important components of research

that we do have a control group to try to ensure that our studies come out as non-biased as possible

[Al-Khalili] to compare against [Dr. Lutfi] yeah, absolutely

Ar-Razi was born in the city of Ray near Tehran

in the mid 9th century

and he was an early proponent of applying a rigorous scientific approach to medicine

During his distinguished career

He served as chief physician of hospitals in both Ray and Baghdad.

In the early 10th century, the ruling caliph in Baghdad, Al-Muqtafi

asked Ar-Razi where in the city he should build a new hospital

So Ar-Razi designed an experiment

He hung meat up around different locations

to see how quickly they rotted - and so determined the place with the cleanest air.

This was typical of Ar-Razi

You have a problem, you design an experiment to find the answer.

During the Golden Age, the dissection of human bodies was considered disrespectful

but there was one group of people who knew quite a bit about anatomy

butchers - albeit the anatomy of animals rather than humans

Well even though this is just a lamb's heart, not a human heart,

We can still see quite clearly the different compartments, the different chambers, within the heart

This would've been something very familiar to these early physicians of the medieval age


In the 17th century, William Harvey famously carried out his ground-breaking research into the circulation of blood and the function of the heart

But in 1924, an ancient document was discovered

This was a text written by Ibn al-Nafis

a 13th century Arab physician

In it, he described the basics of pulmonary circulation

how blood doesn't move across from one side of the heart to the other

but has to take the long way around - around the body

This, 400 years before Harvey

Building on the writings of physicians like Ibn al-Nafis and William Harvey

our understanding of the heart has continued to develop

Harefield Hospital in the UK is part of the country's largest center for heart and lung disease

Their cutting edge treatments build on the work of Professor Magdi Yacoub

one of the world's leading heart specialists

who set up the hospital's busy transplant unit

and who's received a knighthood in Britain for his services to medicine

[Dr. Yacoub] The heart is such a.. like a magic opal

The more learn about it, the more I respect it, because it goes on incessantly



maintaining life

Professor Yacoub is also interested in the history of medicine

As part of a paper he commissioned for a medical journal, he's researched the life and work of Ibn al-Nafis.

Here we have a scholar

born in Syria

in the early part of the 13th century

he was a polymath

because he was studying... he was a theologian, he was a "scientist" if you like, he was a discoverer...

[Al-Khalili] But arguably, his most important contribution was his commentary on medicine

in which he looked at how blood moves through the heart

So this is the heart, and you can see,

quite clearly

the right ventricle and the left ventricle

and these are two completely separate chambers

the question has been, "how does blood go from the right ventricle to the left ventricle

[Al-Khalili] For centuries, the accepted view had been that of the renowned Greek physician Galen

Galen said that blood passes directly between the right and left ventricles of the heart

through tiny holes in the sceptum

the dividing wall that separates them

Ibn Al-Nafis was the first to challenge Galen's view; he established that there weren't any holes, so there had to be another way to pass fro right to left

The Description of Science in a Golden Age - Al-Razi, Ibn Sina and the Canon of Medicine