Education – Discovering the cause of Wolff-Parkinson-White

This weeks theme for the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge is ‘Education’, so I used the opportunity to find out more about my great uncle who was a professor of physiology at Bristol University, and who had an electrical node in the heart named after him – the Bundle of Kent.

Albert Frank Stanley Kent was born in on the 26th of March 1863 in the town of Stratford Tony in Wiltshire. His parents where the Rev George Kent, and Ann Rudgard (who I wrote about in a previous 52 ancestors post). He matriculated from Magdalen College, Oxford at the age of 19 in 1882, and then went on to study a BA and MA in Physiology in 1886 Magdalen College, Oxford.

Immediately after graduating, he became a demonstrator at Owens College in Manchester, where he worked on the structures involved in the electrical stimulation of the heart. In a normal human heart, there is only one electrical conduction pathway between the atria and ventricles, the atrio-ventricular or AV node.

This impulse then passes through the Bundle of His which delays the impulse just enough for the atria to finish contracting before the ventricles contract, which allows the heart to pump in a controlled rhythm. Stanley Kent however discovered an additional abnormal pathway in some hearts, where the impulse from the atria can take a short cut and go directly to the ventricles without the normal delay in the AV node.

AFS Kent
A paper by Stanley Kent describing the abnormal pathway in the heart later identified as the cause of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.
The Bundle of Kent and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome
The Bundle of Kent and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

This causes the heart to beat more rapidly than normal, – up to 300 beats per minute, which cause the heart to go into shock and be unable to pump blood effectively, known as Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome. He published this work, “Researches on the Structure and Function of the Mammalian Heart” in the Journal of Physiology in 1893, and this pathway was named the “Bundle of Kent” after him some years later.

He then moved back to Oxford, taking a role as a demonstrator of Physiology at the University of Oxford and later at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. He also contributed to the establishment of the X-Ray department at St Thomas’ Hospital.

NEWS Albert Frank Stanley KENT 22MAR1915

In 1899 he was appointed Professor of Physiology at Bristol University where he continued to research the human heart. He was awarded a the degree of Doctor of Science of the University of Oxford in 1915.

In 1918, he developed an interest in Industrial Hygiene and became director of Department of Industrial Administration at Manchester Municipal Technical College, where he investigated the field of ‘Industrial fatigue’ in munitions and other industrial workers, attributed to ‘muscular and mental fatigue, worry, bad atmosphere, ill health and starvation’.

He also reported on the “Monday Effect” that affects “men and women who misused their leisure by excessive drinking or other dissipation”.

Had I known this family connection, I might have paid more attention my physiology classes at the University of Cape Town, where I remember learning about the Bundle of His and electrical conduction in the heart …. A course I failed, mainly due to the fact that Physiology lectures were the first lecture of the day … way to early for me, and I probably only attended less than a quarter of them!
I remember my parents talking about my dad’s only trip back to England from South Africa in 1956 (before I was born) where they stayed with Stanley and his family in Bath when he was 93. Apparently he was still working at the time, at a laboratory established at his home.

Stanley Kent died in March 1958, at the age of 95 at his home in Bath, Somerset and is buried at the St. Mary the Virgin Churchyard in Bathwick.

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