First clinical use of stereotaxy in humans: the key role of x-ray localization discovered by Gaston Contremoulins


Journal of Neurosurgery, Ahead of Print. Although attempts to develop stereotactic approaches to intracranial surgery started in the late 19th century with Dittmar, Zernov, and more famously, Horsley and Clarke, widespread use of the technique for human brain surgery started in the second part of the 20th century. Remarkably, a significant similar surgical procedure had already been performed in the late 19th century by Gaston Contremoulins in France and has remained unknown. Contremoulins used the principles of modern stereotaxy in association with radiography for the first time, allowing the successful removal of intracranial bullets in 2 patients. This surgical premiere, greatly acknowledged in the popular French newspaper L’Illustration in 1897, received little scientific or governmental interest at the time, as it emanated from a young self-taught scientist without official medical education. This surgical innovation was only made possible financially by popular crowdfunding and, despite widespread military use during World War I, with 37,780 patients having benefited from this technique for intra- or extracranial foreign bodies, it never attracted academic or neurosurgical consideration. The authors of this paper describe the historical context of stereotactic developments and the personal history of Contremoulins, who worked in the department of experimental physiology of the French Academy of Sciences led by Étienne-Jules Marey in Paris, and later devoted himself to radiography and radioprotection. The authors also give precise information about his original stereotactic tool “the bullet finder” (“le chercheur de projectiles”) and its key concepts.

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