Medical Advances Throughout History

A Top Ten List By Katelyn Parsons

The Rundown

The reason I chose this topic is because I think that we don't appreciate medical advances until we need them. We need to be more grateful as a culture, and being thankful for the medical breakthroughs before us is just the first step.

So the set-up of each paragraph will go like this:

  1. Date
  2. Info
  3. Impact rank and why

The Impact Rank is based on how it affected other items on this list, or progressed them. So, the more it impact and had a greater impact, the higher on the list. Enjoy!

Vaccines, 1796

Dr. Jenner prevented a small boy from contracting one of the most deadly diseases of the time, smallpox, by infecting him with another, lesser virus. Dr. Jenner noticed that milk maids who had contracted cowpox before did not contract the smallpox virus. Dr. Jenner tested the theory that people who had had cowpox were immune to smallpox, on a little boy. He took the pus from a lesion on a milk maid and implanted it into the boy. The boy became ill, and Jenner let the boy recover from the illness before infecting him with smallpox. The boy developed minimal symptoms, and recovered quickly. Jenner's smallpox vaccine was the first of many, and smallpox is the only disease eradicated by humans to date.

And now for the Impact Ranking! On this item, we have...

Number Seven?

Yes, number seven. This item did not impact anything on this list that I could think of. Because of this, I converted to how many people it impacted, and if it was truly something remarkable. The smallpox vaccine cancelled out the smallpox virus completely, and smallpox is the only one of it's kind to be wipe from existence by humans. Because of this, number seven seemed appropriate.

Blood Transfusion, 1818

Ah, James Blundell. You proved so much by not knowing one of the most important parts of blood transfusion today...

James Blundell performed the first ever blood transfusion on woman who had hemorrhaged during child birth. The donor was the husband of the woman. Blundell transferred about 4 ounces, or 0.118294 liters, of blood from the husband. The wife made a healthy recovery, and Blundell went on to do ten more transfusions. Five of these transfusions proved to benefit the receiving end of the blood.

And the Impact Ranking is...

Number five, for various reasons. Firstly, without knowing how to first transfer blood, how could we have safely transferred human organs? Many precautions had to be took to make sure the blood was transferred safely, and even more sophisticated precautions had to be taken to make sure the organs were alright. Because this item impacted two other items on this top ten, those being the first organ transplant and the first heart transplant, five is pretty fitting.

Surgical Anesthetic, 1846

William T. G. Morton demonstrated in Boston the uses of a magical substance that could dull the grueling pain so heavily associated with surgery at the time. This substance was ether, and it really wasn't magic. It put the patient to sleep, and the doctors could perform surgery without patient pain. The pain of surgery that made most people fear a trip to the E.R. was now no longer a problem, and lead to more people getting the treatment they needed.

The Impact Ranking is...

Number four.

Now, anesthetic did impact the same items as blood transfusion did: organ transplants and heart transplants. But, anesthetic made a bigger impact on both than blood transfusion. You couldn't just cut open a living person, pull out their heart, then put in a new one. They'd probably die of shock before the heart was removed. People needed to be asleep to transplant organs.

Antiseptic, 1867

Joseph Lister, a surgeon of the 19th century, noticed that 46% of his patients died after surgery, not because of a surgical mistake, but because of the infections they developed afterward. He then sought out someway to keep disease from spreading in his patients. Lister decided to use carbolic acid, then used to get rid of cattle parasites and treat sewage, to spray over the open wounds of his patients. He also cleansed his surgical tools and the area he operated in. This significantly dropped death rates after surgery. Carbolic acid was replaced by a different antiseptic later, because the acid caused flesh to burn away.

Impact Rank?

Number one!

Antiseptic has achieved the rank of number one because it lead to the sterilization of the operating room, the cause of a major killer in surgery patients. Because the infections killed so many less, more and more people wanted to get the treatment they needed to save their life. Although carbolic acid was proven to be bad for people and replaced, it was the beginning of something amazing.

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X-rays, 1895

In 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered that running electricity through a cathode ray tube could produce some strange images. When a body part, say your hand, is placed between the tubes and a photographic film, solid items are brightened, while softer tissues are less visible. A week later, he experiment using his wife's hand while she had on her wedding ring. The image was not so different from the current x-rays: the ring and bone were clearly visible, but the flesh was harder to make out. Roentgen then saw the medical uses of such a device, and presented it to the public. People thought it was an invasion of privacy to see through people, but that culture was quickly changed when they understood how this could greatly improve the medical world.

The Impact Ranking is... Number Six!

Roentgen's invention, though extremely important, did not impact anything on this list. Because of this, I reverted to the ranking I used for vaccines: how many people it helped, and how big of a breakthrough it was. X-rays were and are a major breakthrough because it allows us to see breaks in bone that before would have to be discovered during invasive surgery. It prevented the unnecessary need of invasive surgery, and the risk of infection.

Blood Types, 1909

Karl Landsteiner presented to the world the four types of blood, A, B, AB and O. In 1875, Leonard Landois stated that the blood of an animal, when transfused to a human, will clump and break up in the blood vessels. In 1901-1903, Landsteiner pointed out that a similar reaction may occur when the blood of humans are transfused to other humans. This set him out to find the cause of this reaction, and six years later, Landsteiner found the cause of some blood going hay-wire in another human.

The Impact Ranking for this item is...

Number two! Blood types impacted three items on the list, those being blood transfusion, organ transplant, and heart transplant. Yes, blood types did come after blood transfusion, but it still impacted and changed the way we transferred blood. It made transferring blood a lot safer for people, because there was a lesser chance of rejection from the receiver of the blood.

Insulin, 1921

Dr Frederick Banting and Charles Best isolate the hormone insulin, which helps break down glucose, by tying a string around the pancreas duct, then taking out the islets that were left there weeks later, and removing the string. They tested the insulin on a diabetic dog, and managed to keep the dog alive the entire summer. The dog's pancreas had been removed. They then tested the insulin on a 14-year-old boy, and kept him from slipping into a coma because of his diabetes. Insulin improves the lives millions of people every day.

Number Nine! Yes, insulin did not rank very high on the impact scale because it did not impact anything on this list. But, being a constant live-saving remedy, insulin will always be important. It is keeping millions of people alive and healthy around the world. Well, it keeps everyone alive and healthy, but isolated insulin is helping those with diabetes the most.

Penicillin, 1928

Alexander Fleming, after leaving his lab for awhile, was checking his petri dishes for bacteria. A petri dish that contained Staphylococcus had developed a mold spore. The area around the spore was free of Staphylococcus. The mold was a rare strain of Penicillium notatum, and the mold "juice" cured Staphylococcus. Fleming presented this cure to the world, and the first antibiotic was popped into existence.

The Impact Ranking is... number eight! This is because antibiotics didn't effect any of the other advancements on this list, but it solved a lot of problems. Before the discovery antibiotics in general, there were no effective treatments for rheumatic fever, gonorrhea or pneumonia. Antibiotics changed this.

Organ Transplant, 1954

Dr. Joseph Murray and a team of surgeon perform a terrifying operation: transferring kidneys. I know that doesn't sound cool, but before 1954, organ transplant was unheard of. It had to be impossible! But that changed when Murray lead his team of surgeon to transfer the kidney of a twin into the other twin. The operation was successful. Because they were identical twins, there was no rejection of the organ, and there was no need for anti-rejection pills.

The Impact Rank is...

Number five!

The first organ transplant effected thee first heart transplant, and in a good way. Because the first operation was successful, more daring surgeries were attempted, such as the first heart surgery, a major breakthrough in organ transplants.

Heart Transplant, 1967

Dr. Christaan Barnard performed the first ever heart transplant in 1967, 13 years after the first organ transplant. Aside from the brain, the heart is one of the most important and recognizable organ of the human body. The patient died 18 days later, not to heart failure, but because of pneumonia contracted because the anti-rejection pills that organ receiver's take weakened the patient's immune system, allowing pneumonia to slip through the cracks.

And the final Impact Ranking of this flyer is...

Number Ten!

Yes, heart transplant gets a number ten because it didn't affect anything on this list. It is an extremely important discovery, mind you. It shows that most organs can be transplanted, but not extremely sensitive organs, such as the brain. The kidneys, lungs, intestines, hearts... we can donate a lot of organs!