FIPAT, the Federative International Programme for Anatomical Terminology, deals with the official international standard set of human anatomical terminologies. It is one of the six major fields of activity of the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists [IFAA], the world body of Anatomy. The others are Education, Ethics and Humanities, Research, Supranational Projects and Scientific Publications.
The IFAA [http://www.ifaa.net] was founded in 1903 and its membership comprises anatomical societies and associations worldwide. It represents and coordinates all aspects of anatomy and the anatomical sciences.
The Societies and Associations comprising the IFAA are by definition worldwide. The international membership of FIPAT and of its section groups reflects this.


The history of anatomical terminology is, unsurprisingly, highly complex, extending back for several thousand years. The FICAT/FIPAT Terminologies are the most recent components of a long series of publications descending from Nomina Anatomica (1895). Up to now FIPAT publications and those of its predecessor FICAT [FCAT] were in book form. Terminologia Anatomica (TA), Terminologia Histologica (TH) and Terminologia Embryologica (TE) have been published in this format, in 1998, 2008 and 2013, respectively. Henceforth however, the publications will be web-based (see below).


Mission:   The brief of FIPAT is to coordinate and support the preparation, revision and publication of documents on the terminology of the anatomical sciences and biomorphology (as set out in the aims of the IFAA).
Vision:  To provide and develop the definitive anatomical terminology which constitutes the basic vocabulary at the core of the health sciences.

FIPAT is a high-level biomedical anatomical terminology. It has wide relevance to the international anatomical community, and indeed to all health sciences, as well as to scientists, educators, writers (scientific and journalistic) and the general public. It provides a rigorous, precise common vocabulary, which is simple to use and encompasses pure and applied [clinical and basic scientific] aspects of Anatomy. As such it is fundamental to unequivocal communication within and between disciplines.

FIPAT terminologies are designed to be flexible so as to enable continual refinement by making new introductions and by taking account of new developments, such as the continual generation of new terms in areas of clinical practice and of anatomical science (e.g, embryology and neuroscience). FIPAT protocols incorporate continual revision and reorganisation in order to meet these challenges.

FIPAT terminologies are not fully comprehensive. This is the incompleteness problem; no system of ontologies is ever complete. The bigger it is the less likely is this to be so. A continuing working objective is to minimize this.


FIPAT systematises and organises anatomical terminology through several Sections: Anatomy [Terminologia Anatomica (TA)], Histology [Terminologia Histologica (TH)], Embryology [Terminologia Embryologica (TE)], Neuroanatomy [Terminologia Neuroanatomica (TNA)], Anthropology [Terminologia Anthropologica (TAnth)], Odontology [Terminologia Odontologica (TO)] and Oral biology and anatomy [Terminologia Orobiologica (TOrobiol)]
There are two subcommittees, each relating to all of the FIPATsections: A Latin subcommittee (see below) and an Informatics subcommittee (presently operating mainly in the area covered by TA). Currently, the FIPAT organisation is overseen by a Chair, Secretary and Deputy Secretary. Each Section is operated by a dedicated Working Group [WG], consisting of a Co-ordinator and up to 5 Advisors. Each WG also has a flexible number of Consultants, who provide expert input on specific topics.


Every official FIPAT term is in Latin, is ideally singular [except where it heads a list] and consists of the minimum number of words. Being in Latin, it provides the focal reference point which enables unequivocal communication and provides the key link for translation into any vernacular. Latin has the unique advantage of being apolitical.
The Latin subcommittee ensures a common and consistent approach across the terminologies. It aids all aspects of Latin naming and translation at an exacting standard.
Whereas standardised English is extending widely and becoming the lingua franca of biomedical science, FIPAT takes account of the fact that clinical practice still uses, and will continue to use, national or regional languages. Hence the value of having Latin as the pivotal reference term. The FIPAT format is designed to facilitate translation into vernacular languages that use anatomy as the basis of their medical training and practice.


To be truly relevant, a terminology needs be capable of undergoing continual refinement to enhance precision and to systematise and codify new advances so that it is up to date (see above). Accordingly, it will reflect changes in close to real time, thereby circumventing the long lead-in times implicit in the book format. The new FIPAT protocol is designed to ensure this.
Most FIPAT work takes place via email and the internet. In addition, FIPAT meets as a committee once every two years.  Such face-to-face meetings are valuable, especially in relation to strategic matters. The key functioning components are the Working Groups [WGs], [see above]. These operate according to a strict protocol that enables effective communication within and between them. This ensures that all draft documents are scrutinised and validated by the full FIPAT membership. After validation by the IFAA Executive, each document is placed on the open version of the FIPAT website as the official IFAA/FIPAT terminology.
Website availability enables continuing feedback from individuals and societies and through other means such as publications. This effectively amounts to a discussion forum. To advise anatomists throughout the world of developments in FIPAT, information is regularly placed on its website and is disseminated through the IFAA newsletter (Plexus).

John Fraher
Chair, FIPAT