The benefits of medical science we enjoy today, cannot be taken for granted. Life expectancy was a shocking ‘22’ in the 500 AD. It is due to the advancement in medicine, that an average human lives up to 71 years today! But it is not only the upturn in life span, it is about making medicine cheaper and more effective, surgeries less painful and contriving some incredible devices to help the disabled. Over the centuries, medical developments have made possible what once was beyond our imagination. Medical science with its diagnostic, surgical and other skills is far advanced, today. Take brain-to-brain interfacing for example, who could have thought, this ‘superpower’ would become a bona fide system by 2016? It is the slow but steady shift towards a more focused and stratified approach in medicine that has led to an unprecedented success. From birth control to bionic eye, let us walk you through some of the greatest medical advances that have taken place over the time.
While hand picking only a few of all the glorious discoveries is a tough task, here is a list of 12 greatest medical breakthroughs.
12. Birth Control:
In early days, women would use cotton with honey and acacia as a suppository. This technique was discovered by the Egyptians. It was during 1914-1921, the term ‘birth-control’ was coined. In 1951, a Mexican chemist, Carl Djerassi declared the invention of contraceptive pills, a medicine saving millions of women from unintended pregnancy, abortions and facilitating family planning. It provides both health and social benefits to both mother and child. But the race is on, scientists are still developing safer and effective methods to avoid undesirable pregnancy.
While we tick off at the pinch of a little needle, there was a time when people used to get amputations done without an anaesthetic! Imagine a man screaming at the top of his lungs whilst his limb is getting chopped off. As much as this sounds like a criminal offence today, it was the only option till the early 18th Century because saving a life is any day more important than any excruciating pain. It was only in 19th Century when an English scientist, John Priestly discovered that the inhalation of nitrous oxide might relieve pain. This later failed during a tooth surgery. In 1846, William Thomas Green Mortan performed a neck tumour surgery, successfully with the help of anaesthetics. It was a turning point for medicine and surgery.
10. Discovery of Germs:
The discovery of germ theory was a major breakthrough for science as it completely changed the study and perspective in medicine. Earlier, the notion that ‘diseases are caused by microorganisms that invade our body’ was like calling the Earth is round in 200BC. It was in 1954, John Snow linked that cholera was caused by the germs in a baby’s nappy. This was completely rejected until Louis Pasteur later proved the theory in a laboratory.
Treating fractures without an X-ray? How absurd does this sound! Before X-ray’s discovery, broken bones, bullets stuck inside the body were all examined by a physical touch. We can imagine the efficiency it must have held. In 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen discovered X-rays with the help of a cathode ray tube and examined his wife’s hand with the X-ray. This led to the X-rays that we use in our modern laboratories and hospitals. Rontgen got a Nobel Prize for the discovery.
It is all because of vaccinations that major epidemics have almost been eradicated from the world. Thanks to Edward Jenner, that horrendous stories of small-pox are only stories now. A deadly disease that killed millions of people, small-pox’s last recorded case was in 1977. The vaccine was discovered by Jenner, who learned that a small injection of the disease causing germ forms antibodies and in turn prevents us from further attack. One of the greatest achievements in medical history.
07. Genetic Discovery:
Gregor Mandel, known as the father of genetics brought to light the ‘inheritance of traits’ and the theory of ‘hereditary’. It was genetics that helped us understand ‘survival of the fittest’ or scientifically speaking, recessive and dominant behaviour of genes. With the basic understanding of inheritance and genetics, scientist grew curious to investigate the nature of a gene. It was then, in 1950s that pointed to DNA as the potion of chromosomes that held genes. The effect of discovery of DNA on medical science is enormous and is considered one of the greatest breakthroughs.
06. Better Cancer treatment:
It is the result of years of intensive study, that cancer is not synonymous to just ‘slow-painful-death’ now. The difficult goal in any cancer treatment is removing the tumour while leaving the healthy cells alone. Major developments in surgery, chemotherapy and increasingly molecularly targeted treatments have now made cancer easily treatable at an early stage. Stage 3 and 4 cancers are treated as well, but they are tougher to cure because it has spread beyond the primary tumour. The average mortality rate has risen 20% over the past two decades.
05. Heart Transplant:
In 1954, the first ever living-kidney was successfully transplanted between two identical twins. It all started way back in 1906, when the kidney transplantations were done between pigs, sheep and goats. It was hard to believe that an organ as complicated as heart can be transplanted. The first human heart transplant happened in December 1967 and made headlines around the world. Heart transplant surgery continues to happen today but finding an appropriate donor is extremely difficult.
04. 3-D Printing:
Using 3-D printing techniques, scientists developed a guide that can help regrow the sensory and motor functions of a rat’s nerves after an injury. In a recent case, a patient needed a portion of the rib-cage replaced, but there wasn’t any donor and also, since our bodies are not identical, it was nearly impossible to find an exact match. This is where 3-D printing came to the rescue! Scientists designed a 3d-printed titanium rib cage that fit perfectly ad saved the patient’s life.
03. Stem cell:
A stem cell is often called ‘mother cell’ because of its astonishing capability of regenerating any type of cell in the body. Researches have now found a bone stem cell that regenerated bone and cartilage in adult mice. So, if a mouse has fracture, these cells will come alive again, generating both bone and cartilage, hence repairing the fracture! Whoa! Doesn’t this sound like a science-fiction movie? Now, the question is if this could happen in humans too? Since, mice and human are closely related in bone biology, it is highly probable so. This development is quite exceptional and impressive as we will now have a way to repair any non-healing fractures and re-new the bone marrow niche in those damaged for any reason.
02. Brain to Brain communication:
Brain to brain communication is still under experimental phase. This technique allows the brain of a sender and receiver to communicate directly through neural coding. This fascinating brain-to-brain interfacing has been used in the past for humans to control other animals only with their thought. In a recent experiment, different pairs of participants were able to converse in a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ manner. So, I guess we’re not very far away from some super-cool mind reading happening around us!
01. Bionic Eye:
Bionic eye is another revolutionary invention that has enabled the blind to see this beautiful world once again (or maybe the first time!). It lets a blind person regain basic functions like walking on a side walk and lets you read one giant-sized word at a time. This is still in an experimental phase and once this technique is fully developed, it will help millions of people who suffer from partial or complete blindness around the world.
Whether or not you take interest in medical science, it will always take interest in you and your well-being. You don’t always have to be a scientist to fathom something out. So, don’t shush your inner-voice. Keep being curious! Who knows what you might discover, someday?