Milestones in European Thyroidology (MET)

Christian Beckers

This section of the ETA website sets out to record the saga of European thyroidologists, who in the past have significantly contributed to the progress of our knowledge in thyroidology. We can be proud of their clinical and scientific contributions. Those Europeans who collected original clinical observations and developed basic and clinical research represent our roots.

Their valuable contribution has to be preserved and made available to the younger generations of thyroidologists.

Roman authors had already reported in the 1st century AD the presence of a swelling of the throat in populations living in the Alps. Stimulated by clinical observations of patients suffering from goitrous diseases and by the progress of the medical sciences, the interest for the thyroid gland exploded in the 19th century. Iodine was identified in 1812 by Bernard Courtois, a French chemist. In 1852, Chatin published on the iodine content in waters and soils in various parts of Europe and even evaluated the iodine intake of some populations. The key discovery of the presence of iodine in the thyroid by Baumann in 1896 suggested the role of this halogen in thyroid economy. Iodine started being used in the treatment of goitrous disorders but the side effects resulting from the administration of too high doses of iodine made its use controversial, even though a link had been proposed between iodine deficiency and endemic goitre.

The 20th century notably expanded our knowledge of the thyroid function and metabolism, particularly after the 1950's, thanks to more detailed clinical observations, the development of biochemistry and physical chemistry, the availability of radioiodine and radioimmunoassays, the discovery of the autoimmune mechanisms and later on, the advancements in molecular biology and genetics.

The memoirs of some European leaders in thyroidology which are presented in the ETA website are the result of a friendly cooperation and teamwork between European scientists, some having witnessed the life and career of these personalities at different levels of their personal and professional relationships. It is a pleasure for me to acknowledge their partnership and to thank all those who have supported this project.

Pr Dr Christian Beckers, MD, PhD
University of Louvain Medical School (UCL, Belgium)