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“In the third century BC Greek medicine also made its greatest progress, owing it to two Greek immigrants in the kings’ big cities.” In Antioch, Erasistratus examined the valves of the heart and theorised that ‘breath’ passed through the arteries. In Alexandria, Herophilus made amazing progress in discovering the nerves, ventricles in the brain, ovaries (though he did not understand their purpose) and much else, while writing admirably about the pulse. The Ptolemies are said to have helped this great leap of knowledge by making condemned prisoners available not just for dissection but for vivisection too. The doctors’ brief access to living anatomy bore a cruel, but valuable, fruit. Egyptian medicine, by contrast, had tended to trace all disease to that root of evil, the backside.

The genetic underpinnings of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy has been clarified considerably in the last decade. Now investigators are studying whether the use of mitochondrial antioxidant defenses may be effective in rescuing affected cells. These studies demonstrate that the superoxide anion is involved in Leber …

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