A short history of the Department of Anatomy

The Medical School was formally opened on the 4th of November, 1921, as a Faculty to the University of Sciences of Debrecen, which was inaugurated by the last King of the House of Habsburg in 23 October 1918. Teaching and work started on the next day in the Department of Anatomy. The penurious accommodation in an old building that the Anatomy Department had to share with other Departments did not impede the enthusiast first director, Tivadar Huzella, in providing the necessary supply of cadavers and histological specimens for a high level of teaching in the misery after the lost World War I. In addition to the regular anatomy training, he complemented the curriculum with general biology which he thought a relevant discipline in medical education. With gradual improvement of economy, the Department moved into a new building in which a large lecture hall, a dissecting room and histological class rooms were available for students, and instrumental facilities for the staff’s scientific activities. Due to the interest of the director, research studies were performed on the intercellular substance of tissues to which he attributed an indispensable role in the organization of the structure. This was a new concept way ahead of his time. A valuable series of wax models about the regions of the body has been inherited from this period of the Department, and they are still profitably used in practical trainings of gross anatomy.

Unfortunately, Huzella left for the Chair of the Budapest Anatomy Department in 1933, and in lack of an appropriate person, the development of the burgeoning institute did not progress in the desired manner under a number of temporary directors, when in 1944, Imre Törö received a permanent appointment to the head of the Department. In his ambition to expand the laboratories and other facilities was greatly held up by the post-war economy of a ruined country worsened by the gradual emergence of a political niche unfavorable for the building up of an up-to-date scientific institute. Yet, he succeeded in improving the optic instruments as well as the chemical supply which rendered the introduction of histochemical and tissue culture studies also possible. He disclosed an interest in developmental biology and produced a handbook in human embryology. In order to promote the efficiency of the training in gross anatomy, the big dissection room became partitioned into small cubicles and the students received teaching in small groups supervised by younger colleagues.

The Department became really revitalized when, in 1950, Törő moved to Budapest, and after a short interval István Krompecher took over the directorship. Having visited a number of morphology departments in Western Europe, Krompecher came with new ideas and put the scientific activities on an experimental basis which was quite unusual in an anatomical department at that time. Research was focused on the structure and development of supporting tissues, and his proposition about the formation of a callus on the broken end of bones evoked an international interest. The gradual consolidation of the political atmosphere and the increasing scientific activities has opened up the Department, and interested scientists, first from the so called “socialistic countries”, then also from other countries, paid shorter or longer visit to see the results of young colleagues who, in turn, could repay such visits. An interesting result was the unrevealing of the ultrastructure of the cartilage with the studious application of the polarization microscope, and it earned a great appreciation before the era of the electron microscope. The Debrecen Anatomy Department has become the basis of connective tissue research in the country.

The scientific palette became colored with the change of the Head of the Department after the retirement of Krompecher in 1975. Coming from a background of neurobiological research György Székely introduced this discipline to the connective tissue research. His previous developmental neurobiology studies were extended to the use of various tracer techniques in the investigation of central pathways and nuclei. The gradual improvement of the financial support increased the instrumental supply of the Department and the neuromorphological studies could be complemented with physiological techniques. This and an easy access to an up-to-date electron microscope provided new landscapes for experimental designs. The loosening of political control over contacts with the West widened the communication between colleagues of common interest on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and regulations in sending manuscripts to Western scientific journals gradually ceased. Only financial shortages impede the subscription to such journals and the visits to conferences organized by Western scientific societies. The teaching facilities could be also improved by setting up a closed loop of TV networks in the histological classrooms. The system has proven to be very useful in histology training of the continuously increasing number of students. It was temporarily a shocking change in education that universities admitted foreign students from Western countries, and the teaching in foreign language put an extreme load on to the relatively small number of English speaking instructors. Nevertheless, the institutions were motivated by the hard currency obtained for tuition to enlarge the budget, and the young instructors by the extra few pence to learn the language; and these made up for the extra work.

The next change in directorship took place after the pension of Székely in 1994. With an emphasize on the sensory system, Miklós Antal maintained neurobiology in the main stream of researches in the Department.

To reflect the establishment of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University Medical School, a non-independent Unit of Dental Anatomy was created within the Department. The Unit was directed by Laszló Módis from 1994 till 2004, when Klára Matesz took the directorship over.
The Tadashi Hirano Hungarian-Japanese Center for Electronmicroscopy became a part of the Department in 2003. In addition to offering state of the art instrumentation for ultrastructural research, the Center also provides a service in ultrastructural histopathology for medical diagnostics.
The Department made substantial achievements both in science and education in the past few years. The teaching duties are extremely widespread and continuously extending. We teach gross anatomy, histology and embryology as well as functional neuroanatomy for medical, dental and pharmacy students both in Hungarian and English. In addition, we are also teaching a number of subjects in various educational programs, like biology BSc, molecular biology MSc, medical and research laboratory analyst, physiotherapist and public sanitary.
The members of the Department are accredited in three PhD programs of the Medical and Health Science Center: Neurosciences, Molecular Medical Sciences and Clinical Sciences. At present, 10 accredited lecturers supervise the scientific activities of 14 PhD-students in the three programs. The Department also gives place and opportunity for scientific work for undergraduate students.
Together with the Laboratory of Cortical Systems Neurosciences, which was recently established, there are six independent research groups working in the Department. In addition to this, the Department hosts a Neuroscience Research Team which is financially supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.