The present paper reviews the life and achievements of Professor Boris Petrovich Babkin (MD DSc LLD). History is only worth writing about if it teaches us about the future; therefore, this historical review concludes by describing what today’s and future gastrointestinal physiologists could learn from Dr Babkin’s life.
Dr Babkin was born in Russia in 1877. He graduated with an MD degree from the Military Medical Academy in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1904. Not being attracted to clinical practice, and after some hesitation concerning whether he would continue in history or basic science of medicine, he entered the laboratory of Professor Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Although he maintained an interest in history, in Pavlov’s exciting environment he became fully committed to physiology of the gastrointestinal system. He advanced quickly in Russia and was Professor of Physiology at the University of Odessa. In 1922, he was critical of the Bolshevik revolution, and after a short imprisonment, he was ordered to leave Russia. He was invited with his family by Professor EH Starling (the discoverer of secretin) to his department at University College, London, England. Two years later, he was offered a professorship in Canada at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. After contributing there for four years, he joined McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, in 1928 as Research Professor. He remained there for the rest of his career. Between 1940 and 1941, he chaired the Department, and following retirement, he remained as Research Professor. At the invitation of the world-famous neurosurgeon, Wilder Penfield, Dr Babkin continued as Research Fellow in the Department of Neurosurgery until his death in 1950 at age 73.
His major achievements were related to establishing the concept of brain-gut-brain interaction and the influence of this on motility, as well as on interface of multiple different cells, nerves and hormones on secretory function. He had a major role in the rediscovery of gastrin. He established a famous school of gastrointestinal physiologists at McGill University. He supported his trainees and helped them establish their careers. He received many honors: a DSc in London, England, and an LLD from Dalhousie University. Most importantly, he was the recipient of the Friedenwald Medal of the American Gastroenterological Association for lifelong contributions to the field. Dr Babkin taught us his philosophical aspect of approaching physiology, his devotion to his disciples and his overall kindness. Most importantly, he has proven that one can achieve international recognition by publishing mainly in Canadian journals. He is an example to follow.