The 5 Most World-Changing Advances in Medical History

You cannot overstate the importance of medical research. Through the years, researchers and subjects have worked together to come up with cures and treatments that help people overcome their diseases. The public is very aware of how vital clinical trials and the like are to the continued progress of medical procedures. Over 70 percent of all Americans say that they were likely to participate in a clinical trial recommended by a doctor.

Partnerships between research institutions, medical companies, and private citizens have helped usher in astounding treatments. People today are living longer and healthier compared to just half a century ago thanks to endeavors like market research for rare diseases and continuous studies.

So today, take a few minutes to appreciate some of the most significant advances in medical history. These discoveries serve as the foundation for treatments today and will most likely be used to establish cures in the future.

1. Hand Washing

The Discovery: In the early 1800s, a Hungarian physician known as Ignaz Semmelweis worked for the maternity clinic of Vienna’s General Hospital. While working at the maternity ward, Semmelweis found an odd discrepancy. Pregnant women who were being attended by doctors were dying from childbed fever more often than those attended by midwives. After a series of experiments to determine the cause, Semmelweis realized that the doctors were performing autopsies on corpses as well as delivering babies without washing their hands.

The Impact: Semmelweis immediately ordered doctors to wash their hands with a chlorine solution before delivering babies. The results showed a dramatic reduction in childbed fever deaths. Semmelweis became one of the first people to realize that infections could be passed via contact. His discovery remains true to this day, with handwashing labeled as one of the best methods of reducing infections and the transference of contagions.

2. Germ Theory

The Discovery: Before doctors had access to microscopic imagery, no one knew for sure how diseases transferred from one person to the other. Theories ranged from bad air or miasma to the famous imbalance of humor. Louis Pasture was a French scientist who initially didn’t set out to prove the existence of microscopic creatures. Instead, he wanted to understand how fermentation worked. However, his discovery that wine fermented due to the presence of bacteria and microorganisms established that unseen creatures could be responsible for diseases.

The Impact: Thanks to Pasteur’s discovery, medical professionals focused on eliminating microorganisms, finally attacking the correct targets with their treatments. His discovery also helped make food products safer for consumers. The process of heating milk and other food to destroy microbes is officially known as pasteurization, after the curious Frenchman who made it possible.


3. Antibiotics

The Discovery: Even though the works of Semmelweis and Pasteur had identified one of the greatest enemies of medical professionals, there seemed to be no way of stopping bacteria and germs once they entered the human body. Blood poisoning was one of the most prevalent causes of death, which can happen from just a single wound or scratch. It was during this bleak time in 1929 that an English bacteriologist, Alexander Fleming, discovered penicillin. While working with petri dishes for various bacteria, Fleming noticed the microbes had died around a tiny splotch of mold. Working with his assistants, Fleming isolated penicillin from the mold and introduced the first true antibiotic to the world.

The Impact: Because of Fleming’s discovery, medical professionals could now study the properties of penicillin and understand which parts of its chemistry proved effective against bacteria. The mass manufacturing of antibiotics made them readily available to the public, vastly decreasing the number of people who died due to simple infections. Even today, penicillin works wonders against a whole slew of diseases and still provides hope to people all over the world.

4. Vaccines

The Discovery: Even before the discovery of germs, people were already looking for cures to their diseases. The adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” was already the maxim of doctors hundreds of years ago. Unknown to them at the time, prevention could be found in vaccination. A doctor named Edward Jenner was the first to discover that people who previously contracted a disease were more resilient to it. He observed that milkmaids who contracted cowpox were less likely to succumb to its more deadly cousin, smallpox. In 1796, Jenner performed the first immunization, establishing a life-saving procedure.

The Impact: Jenner’s work enabled researchers to develop vaccines for hundreds of diseases during the intervening centuries. Thanks to his work, most countries in the world have eliminated diseases such as polio. A massive international effort in the 20th century also destroyed smallpox, the disease that started it all. Today, vaccines are the first and primary weapon medical professionals have in combatting epidemics and other outbreaks.

You can see how the chain of discoveries has helped civilization throughout the years. Each research and study build upon the works of their predecessors, and in doing so, help create a healthier future.

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