Histology, circa 1885

An histology slide of US President Ulysses Grant's squamous cell carcinoma from 1885. Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com" />An histology slide of US President Ulysses Grant's squamous cell carcinoma from 1885. Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com In 1885, pathologist George Elliott was looking through his micr

Alan Hawk
Jan 1, 2008
<figcaption>An histology slide of US President Ulysses Grant's squamous cell carcinoma from 1885. Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com</figcaption>
An histology slide of US President Ulysses Grant's squamous cell carcinoma from 1885. Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com

In 1885, pathologist George Elliott was looking through his microscope at the histological preparation of a tumor pictured here. He noted that "the structure is largely composed of epithelial tissue which in places appears in the form of distinct lobules or "cell nests." In spots the cells show a tendency to group and form concentric globes, which indicates that the cells have been rapidly forming." Based on his findings, Elliott diagnosed the tumor as "epithelioma of a squamous cell variety."

By the time the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology's Dennis Heffner examined the slide in 2000, much had changed: improved histological preparation, better microscope optics, DNA testing, and a more sophisticated understanding of cancer. Heffner observed "some remaining hematoxlin chromasia,...

<figcaption>The case in which pathologist George Elliott kept Grant's histology slides. Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com</figcaption>
The case in which pathologist George Elliott kept Grant's histology slides. Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com