#5 Most Important Medical Discoveries In History

Most Important Medical Discoveries

Vaccines (1796)

It is difficult to pinpoint when vaccines became an accepted practice, mostly because the journey to discovery was long and complicated. Beginning with an attempt by Edward Jenner in 1796 to use inoculations to tame the infamous smallpox virus, the usefulness and popularity of vaccines grew very quickly.

Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, various vaccinations were created to combat some of the world’s deadliest diseases, including smallpox, rabies, tuberculosis, and cholera. Over the course of 200 years, one of the deadliest diseases known to man – the smallpox – was wiped off the face of the earth. Since then, virtually all vaccines have worked using the same concept. That was until a new technology, called mRNA, came along and created game-changing possibilities for the future of healthcare. Its high effectiveness, capacity for rapid development and potential for low production costs was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic two separate mRNA vaccines were developed and approved for use in just a matter of months.

Anaesthesia (1846)

Before the first use of a general anaesthetic in the mid-19th century, surgery was undertaken only as a last resort, with several patients opting for death rather than enduring the excruciating ordeal. Although there were countless earlier experiments with anaesthetic dating as far back to 4000 BC – William T. G.

Morton made history in 1846 when he successfully used ether as an anaesthetic during surgery. Soon after, a faster-acting substance called chloroform became widely used but was considered high-risk after several fatalities were reported. Since the 1800s, safer anaesthetics have been developed, allowing millions of life-saving, painless operations to take place.

Medical imaging (1895)

The first medical imaging machines were X-rays. The X-ray, a form of electromagnetic radiation, was ‘accidentally’ invented in 1895 by German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rӧntgen when experimenting with electrical currents through glass cathode-ray tubes. The discovery transformed medicine overnight and by the following year, Glasgow hospital opened the world's very first radiology department.

Ultrasound, although originally discovered many years before, began being used for medical diagnosis in 1955. This medical imaging device uses high frequency sound waves to create a digital image, and was no less than ground-breaking in terms of detecting pre-natal conditions and other pelvic and abdominal abnormalities. In 1967, the computed tomography (CT) scanner was created, which uses X-ray detectors and computers to diagnose many different types of disease, and has become a fundamental diagnostic tool in modern medicine.

The next major medical imaging technology was discovered in 1973 when Paul Lauterbur produced the first magnetic resonance image (MRI). The nuclear magnetic resonance data creates detailed images within the body and is a crucial tool in detecting life-threatening conditions including tumours, cysts, damage to the brain and spinal cord and some heart and liver problems.

Antibiotics (1928)

Alexander Fleming’s penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic, completely revolutionised the war against deadly bacteria. Famously, the Scottish biologist accidentally discovered the anti-bacterial ‘mould’ in a petri dish in 1928. However, Fleming’s incredible findings were not properly recognised until the 1940s, when they began being mass-produced by American drug companies for use in World War II.

Two other scientists were responsible for the mass distribution of penicillin, Australian Howard Florey and Nazi-Germany refugee Ernst Chain, and their development of the substance ended up saving millions of future lives. Unfortunately, over the years certain bacterium have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, leading to a world-wide crisis that calls for the pharmaceutical industry to develop new anti-bacterial treatments as soon as possible.

Organ transplants (1954)

In December 1954, the first successful kidney transplant was carried out by Dr Joseph Murray and Dr David Hume in Boston, USA. Despite many previous attempts in history, this was the first instance where the recipient of an organ transplant survived the operation. The turning point came when various technical issues were overcome, such as vascular anastomosis (the connection between two blood vessels), placement of the kidney and immune response.

In 1963, the first lung transplant was carried out, followed by a pancreas/kidney in 1966, and liver and heart in 1967. Aside from saving thousands of lives in the years following, transplant procedures have also become increasingly innovative and complex, with doctors successfully completing the first hand transplant in 1998 and full-face transplant in 2010!

via ProClinical.com

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