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He was born Edward Albert Schäfer, in Hornsey in London, the third son of Jessie Brown and James William Henry Schäfer, a merchant born in Hamburg, who had come to England as a young man, and was a naturalised citizen. His mother was English. The family lived in Highgate in north-west London.
He was appointed Assistant Professor of Practical Physiology in 1874 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1878 when he was 28 years old. He was Fullerian Professor at the Royal Institution and became Jodrell Professor at UCL in 1883, a position he held until 1899 when he was appointed to the chair of physiology at the University of Edinburgh (replacing the late William Rutherford) where he remained until his retirement in 1933 and becoming Emeritus Professor thereafter. His chair was filled by Prof Ivan De Burgh Daly.
He died at home in North Berwick on 29 March 1935.
He was married twice, firstly in 1878 to Maud Dixey and after her death in 1896, in 1900 he married Ethel Maud Roberts. There were four children by his first marriage, however, he outlived three of them: his eldest daughter died in 1905 and both his sons died in action in World War I.
Following the death of his eldest son, John Sharpey Schafer, the name of 'Sharpey', which had been given as a middle name, was hyphenated to Schafer, becoming thereafter (from 1918) Sharpey-Schafer. This was both in memory of his son, and also to perpetuate the name of his teacher, William Sharpey.
Besides valuable papers on muscular structure, on the chemistry of blood proteids, on absorption, and on the rhythm of voluntary contraction, he wrote:
A Course of Practical Histology (1877)
Essentials of Histology (1885; sixth edition, 1902)
Advanced Text-Book of Physiology by British Physiologists (1898)
Experimental Physiology (1910)
He edited Quain'sElements of Anatomy (with G. D. Thane, 8th, 9th, and 10th editions).
Schaefer's method -- (artificial respiration) - Patient prone with forehead on one of his arms: straddle across patient with knees on either side of his hips, and press with both hands firmly upon the back over the lower ribs; then raise your body slowly, at the same time relaxing the pressure with your hands. Repeat this forward and backward movement about every five seconds.
Sykes, Alan H.: "Sharpey's Men" in Sharpey's fibres : the life of William Sharpey, the father of modern physiology in England, page 132-135. York : William Sessions, 2001.
Krediet, C. T. P.; Wieling, W. (2008). "Edward P. Sharpey-Schafer was right: Evidence for systemic vasodilatation as a mechanism of hypotension in cough syncope". Europace. 10 (4): 486-488. doi:10.1093/europace/eun022. PMID18310080.
Sparrow, E. P.; Finger, S. (2001). "Edward Albert Schäfer (Sharpey-Schafer) and his Contributions to Neuroscience: Commemorating of the 150th Anniversary of his Birth". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 10 (1): 41-57. doi:10.1076/jhin.10.1.41.5625. PMID11446263.