“I shall fight to the bitter end for the truth and for my ideas. I know that I am right: my therapy is the key to fighting age-related illnesses. My constant motto is: Work, Truth, Light”
Theme: Women in Medicine
Born on the 1st of January in 1897 to merchant Margarit Aslan and his wife Sofia Aslan in Romania, Ana Aslan was the youngest of the four children. She had two brothers, Bombonel and Sergiu, and an older sister, Angela. Margarit was 59 years old when Ana was born, and he spoilt her dearly. Quite in contrast to other children of her age, Ana was never interested in playing with toys and dolls. Instead, she preferred to contribute to the lively discussions that grown-ups had. Ana shared a close bond with both her parents, but especially her father. Sofia hailed from a Bukovinian family and was fluent in German, French, Russian and Polish. Besides cycling and playing chess, she loved designing clothes for her children. This soon became an element of her mother that Ana inherited and kept up all her life. Also assuming her mother’s free-spirited and courageous nature, Ana was full of joy and drive, which always encouraged her to fight against setbacks. One night, a fire broke out in Ana’s residence. Setting the curtains alight, a candle had fallen from a piano, putting the house in a cloud of flames in no time. But Ana couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her beloved home to the fire, so she stayed inside, calmly filling in a pot with water to fight the fire.
When Margarit was 72, his tuberculosis was progressing rapidly. Having to watch her father succumb to his illness, that too at the age of 13, Ana found herself consumed by despair as she had just lost the person who she loved the most. Thanks to her courageous nature, she soon decided to move past the feeling of helplessness by beginning research on the process of ageing. The pain of her loss transformed into determination, with which she approached her first year of medical studies. Although she loved her mother with all her being, Sofia was against the idea of Ana studying medicine because it was unusual for a woman to study medicine in the early 20th century. Hell-bent on wanting to become a doctor, Ana went on a hunger strike. Looking at her persistence and strong willpower, Sofia eventually gave in and Ana was granted the opportunity to study medicine. She started by studying Osteology, which was a chore; she had to make regular visits to the dissection rooms, which were dark and spooky, especially with the bodies giving off a disgusting smell. Overlooking the discomfort of this, Ana went on to entangle herself in the maze of nerves, vessels and muscle tissue. One day, Ana tried to expose the Maxillary artery which was almost inaccessible. She injected a contrasting substance inside the body to make the delicate connections more visible. Soon, the body was discovered by the brilliant and popular Professor Toma Ionescu, who was highly impressed by the accuracy of the incisions and offered her a place in surgery whenever she felt ready.
Ana became assistant to the famous Rumanian neurologist, Professor Gheorge Marinescu during her third year of medical training. Having experience in various departments like Neurology, Paediatrics, Surgery, Gynaecology, Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine, she was responsible for many patients. Under Professor Marinescu, Ana first heard about Geriatrics, which was soon to become her goal. After finishing her training and passing her examinations with flying colours, Ana moved to Timișoara, where her tradition of “Saturday discussions” allowed the entire medical staff to discuss what kinds of treatment methods were working and what was not. She believed that it also allowed her juniors to benefit from her rich store of experience. During this time, Ana studied the essays written by Neurologist Constantin L Parhon in depth and was so moved by the research that she took it upon herself to go to the capital city regularly to speak with him. Parhon was a strong believer of the possibility of rejuvenation, and that if a person’s death has been caused because of an illness, the illness can be healed. Ana shared the exact opinion and started experimenting with a substance called Procaine. Her breakthrough came when a young medical student with advanced knee arthritis went to her clinic. After informing him about the experiments she conducted with Procaine and the results obtained, he allowed her to inject the substance. Seeing that the young man was immediately able to stretch out his legs without any pain at all, Ana discovered other beneficial effects of this anesthetic drug. She administered more patients with Procaine and went to Bucharest with her discoveries and informed Parhon immediately, who advised her to continue her experiments. After the completion of her investigations, she presented her results to the Rumanian Academy of Medicine. Encountering envy from male scientists made her realise that she couldn’t overtake them simply with the results of her investigations. Using the name of one of her masters, Professor Danielopolou, she opened a research institute for Gerontology and Geriatrics. To prevent the conservatives of the Academy from endangering the project, Danielopolou took the lead and became the Head of the institute, but later swapped roles with Ana, making her the head and himself the substitute director. From that time onwards, Ana became recognised as “Professor A. Aslan,” who did not need the signatures of Professor Danielopolou to pass orders. Her invention of “Gero-H3-Aslan” and other similar anti-ageing drugs later transformed the lives of many elderly people.
Other than the challenges thrown at her by the Academy, Ana had to overcome other political and social issues before her discoveries could be used to benefit the people. We cannot summarise the setbacks she encountered within a page and a half of writing, but we can appreciate her dedication towards trying to improve the quality of life for the elderly. Ana Aslan’s story is a noteworthy example of a woman succeeding in a field of work that is dominated by men - one which we, as founders of Under the Microscope, and as aspiring healthcare professionals, have learned a lot from. We sincerely hope that Ana Aslan's story acts as a motivational tool for anyone embarking on the journey to achieve their goals.
Osteology: The study of the structure of bones and skeletal elements of the body
Maxillary artery: One of the many branches of a central artery that supports many structures of the face
Geriatrics: A speciality of medicine that focuses on the treatment of elderly people
Procaine: A local anesthetic drug which is used to reduce pain
Gerontology: The study of the social, cultural, physiological, cognitive and biological aspects of ageing
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Gavin, J. Ana Aslan. The Rhodesian Study Circle. Retrieved 17 September 2020. [Online] Available from: <http://www.rhodesianstudycircle.org.uk/ana-aslan/>
Dumitrașcu, D., Shampo, M., Kyle, R. Ana Aslan - Founder of the First Institute of Geriatrics. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Retrieved 17 September 2020. [Online] Available from: <https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)63390-9/pdf>
Neica, L., Aldulea, N. (2009). Ana Aslan, The Woman Who Defeated Time. Transilvania University of Brasov. Retrieved 17 September 2020. [Online] Available from: <http://webbut.unitbv.ro/bu2009/BULETIN2009/SuplimentBU2009/pdf/29_Neica.pdf>
Nita, R. (September 10 2018). World’s First Geriatrics Institute: Ana Aslan Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics. [Online] Available from: <http://www.worldrecordacademy.org/records/medical/world-s-first-geriatrics-institute-ana-aslan-institute-of-gerontology-and-geriatrics-218216>