Wharton studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and at Trinity College, Oxford, receiving his M.D. in 1647. Between 1659 and 1673 he held a post as a physician at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, where he worked closely with Francis Glisson. His contributions to medicine greatly advanced anatomical research in seventeenth-century England. Among his contributions were the discovery of the mucoid jelly of the umbilical cord, and the role of saliva in mastication and digestion. He was a close friend of Elias Ashmole, and of Izaak Walton, who makes reference to Wharton in his Compleat angler. First published at London in 1656, Adenographia provided the first comprehensive survey and classification of all the glands of the human body - excretory, reductive, nutrient - distinguishing them from the viscera. Wharton gave good descriptions of the adrenal and thyroid glands, as well as the submaxillary salivary gland, which he discovered and which is named after him ('Wharton's duct'). He is also responsible for naming the thyroid. Adenographia was reprinted on the Continent in smaller format in 1659, 1664, 1671, 1679 and 1730.