10 medical discoveries that altered history

by Testimony Olajire

July 9, 2019

Advancements, inventions, creativity, making things better, whichever way you see them – They are all key to our existence and survival as humans. As a matter of fact, Darwin calls it ‘Natural selection,’ simply put: the fittest survive.

This would explain why advancement over time, in whatever areas are key to the existence of life and why also, huge amounts are spent on research.
Medicine is a central field to every society and the quality of the healthcare in any community would always affect every other sector.

The saying ‘Health is wealth’ might be cliché, but it is very true. Only healthy people write, code, teach, play or do whatever it is that people do!

Therefore, we take a look at advancements in this field right from the 19th century where there was a lot of technological advancement that no doubt also impacted medicine.

1. The cell theory:

Of course, to begin with, the basis of all things, the basic, functional unit of life, the cell. Travel back to the time before the 17th century and you find out that no one actually knew what living things were made of. Not until Robert Hooke, Thedor Schwann and other scientists come on board do we know that we actually are composed of cells. The cell theory paved the way for many other medical discoveries, because you see, once we were able to understand the makeup of living things, then we could understand pathology, diagnosis, target drugs and other forms of treatment to the cells, at the molecular level. A milestone achievement this was!

2. The Stethoscope:


A Stethoscope

There is no doubting this. This was a huge step for medicine. Invented in 1816 by René Laennec, it was a product of integrating the physics of sound conduction and amplification through a medium into the practice of medicine. Before the advent of stethoscopes, doctors had to directly use their ears to try to pick heart sounds and anomalies or use their hands to try and feel. Apart from the severe limitation this method posed, imagine how awkward it would have been for doctors to always place their ears on every patient’s chest! Apart from heart sounds, stets have also found application in checking for breath sounds in the lungs and even bowel sounds in the abdomen.

3. Antibiotics:

Antibiotics definitely have to be on this list. The war between man and microbes tilted in our favour with Alexander Fleming’s discovery of Penicillin. Antibiotics have saved lives of   millions of people and rendered several previously incurable conditions curable. Even with the advent of resistance and all, antibiotics still play a central role in management of several conditions in hospitals.

4. The germ theory of disease:

Infectious diseases are caused by Microorganisms. That sounds so normal that you would not think about it twice. However, there was a time when that statement was up for debate! Before the 19th century, most scientists held the view that diseases were caused by inhaling bad or polluted air – The Miasma theory of diseases. The problem with this theory was that they could not explain how diseases really progressed and were spread, neither could they manage them effectively. Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch provided direct evidence that microorganisms caused diseases. Louis Pasteur was able to show that yeast caused fermentation and Robert Koch propagated postulates that guide the identification of the specific microbes. Their work formed the basis of diagnosis, understanding mechanism of diseases and treatment.

5. X-rays:

Today, X-ray examinations are routine and have become a cornerstone for easily making diagnosis. Discovered accidentally by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895, Xrays have since gone on to play a pivotal role in diagnostic medicine.

xray image of a hand

                An Xray image

As a matter of fact, Rontgen was awarded an honorary Doctor of Medicine degree and is considered by many to be the father of diagnostic medicine today. X-rays have applications in diagnosis, monitoring treatments and can be also used to evaluate prognosis of several conditions.

6. Thermometers:

Fahrenheit invented the modern mercury thermometer that is used today in many places, although Galilei Galileo was reported to have constructed one in the 16th century. However, the closest to the modern thermometer is from Fahrenheit’s model. The thermometer enabled accurate and precise measurements of temperature to be made. This is very important, because the body’s functions and homeostasis are maintained within a narrow temperature range.


Disturbing that balance could result in fatal consequences and thanks to Fahrenheit, we now have an instrument that can tell us when there is a disturbance in that balance.

7. Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Res0nance Imaging (MRI):

These modalities in imaging were a quantum leap in radiology. X-rays have been in use for hundreds of years. This image modality is amazing, with a lot of routine applications, but still has a lot of limitations. One of the limitations is the two dimensional nature of the images produced. Another is the inability to clearly visualize soft tissues of various densities. Scientists were able to draw on previous works and then invent devices that could give better and clearer, three dimensional images non-invasively to diagnose, treat and monitor conditions.

8. Vaccination:

Vaccination is treatment with a vaccine to stimulate immunity against a disease. A vaccine is just an agent that helps the body system produce immunity against a particular microorganism causing a disease. The agent might be a killed or weakened form of the disease-causing organism or just resemble it. With the advent of vaccination, several diseases which had previously high mortality rates are now preventable. Edward Jenner in 1796 developed the first globally acclaimed vaccine against smallpox. Through his work, millions of people were protected from the disease. The vaccine is still in use today and several other vaccines against diseases such as Polio, Diphtheria, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis have been produced.

9. Highly Active Anteretroviral Therapy :

Gone are the days when Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection was a death sentence. Scientists have worked very hard to produce HAART, a combination of three or more drugs to treat HIV infection. It is a big step in the right direction, considering the statistics that show that about 5000 new infections occur every day. This has gone a long way to ensure that people living with HIV can still live and enjoy normal lives.

10. Microscopes!

We dare not leave this landmark discovery out of the discussion! Initially designed on the principle of light passing through lens, the microscope has done wonders in the word of science. It made viewing of objects which were invisible to the naked eye possible. Think about it, it meant that scientists could now visually monitor things like the progress of a disease, how a disease was spread, how effective treatments were and even make some diagnoses from just a film!  Zaccharias Janssen, Hans Lippershey, Cornelis Drebbel, Galileo Galilei, thank you all for the microscope, mankind really owes you one.


What is next?

With new studies being made and research advancements, we are getting better everyday, making improvements and redefining positions, because that is what life is all about – change.
The medical field would keep advancing and more developments would take place, to preserve more lives and prevent more diseases where possible, while also treating those previously deemed untreatable.

Obviously, this list cannot be exhaustive as there are so many discoveries that have been made. Therefore, you could make a comment as to what you feel should be on the list and why.

Testimony Olajire

By Testimony Olajire

Testimony Olajire is a Medical student and Freelance Writer. He has been writing for about six years and is experienced in diverse genre but has special interests in Health, Youth Lifestyle and the Christian Faith. As a results-oriented person, he is consistent in delivering unique and well-written content and sure enough, he never misses a deadline!

Read more at testyb.net

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