Medical Advances Timeline

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Find key developments in the field of medicine, from the birth of Hippocrates to today.

460 BCE Birth of Hippocrates, Greek physician and founder of the first university. Considered the father of medicine. Hippocrates bases medicine on objective observation and deductive reasoning, although he does accept the commonly held belief that disease results from an imbalance of the four bodily humors (an idea that persists for centuries).
c.130 CE Birth of Galen, considered by many to be the most important contributor to medicine following Hippocrates. Born of Greek parents, Galen resides primarily in Rome where he is physician to the gladiators and personal physician to several emperors. He publishes some 500 treatises and is still respected for his contributions to anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology.
910 Persian physician Rhazes is the first to identify smallpox, as distinguished from measles, and to suggest blood as the cause of infectious disease.
1590 Dutch lens grinder Zacharius Jannssen invents the microscope
1628 William Harvey publishes An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals, describing how blood is pumped throughout the body by the heart, and then returns to the heart and recirculates. The book is very controversial but becomes the basis for modern research on the heart and blood vessels.
1656 Experimenting on dogs, English architect Sir Christopher Wren is the first to administer medications intravenously by means of an animal bladder attached to a sharpened quill. Wren also experiments with canine blood transfusions (although safe human blood transfusions only became feasible after Karl Landsteiner develops the ABO blood-typing system in 1900).
1670 Anton van Leeuwenhoek refines the microscope and fashions nearly 500 models. Discovers blood cells and observes animal and plant tissues and microorganisms.
1747 James Lind , a Scottish naval surgeon, discovers that citrus fruits prevent scurvy. He publishes his Treatise of the Scurvy in 1754, identifying the cure for this common and dangerous disease of sailors, although it takes another 40 years before an official Admiralty order dictates the supply of lemon juice to ships.
1796 Edward Jenner develops a method to protect people from smallpox by exposing them to the cowpox virus. In his famous experiment, he rubs pus from a dairymaid's cowpox postule into scratches on the arm of his gardener's 8-year-old son, and then exposes him to smallpox six weeks later (which he does not develop). The process becomes known as vaccination from the Latin vacca for cow. Vaccination with cowpox is made compulsory in Britain in 1853. Jenner is sometimes called the founding father of immunology.
1800 Sir Humphry Davy announces the anesthetic properties of nitrous oxide, although dentists do not begin using the gas as an anesthetic for almost 45 years.
1816 René Laënnec invents the stethoscope.
1818 British obstetrician James Blundell performs the first successful transfusion of human blood.
1842 American surgeon Crawford W. Long uses ether as a general anesthetic during surgery but does not publish his results. Credit goes to dentist William Morton.
1844 Dr. Horace Wells, American dentist, uses nitrous oxide as an anesthetic.
1846 Boston dentist Dr. William Morton demonstrates ether's anesthetic properties during a tooth extraction.
1849 Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman to receive a medical degree (from Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York).
1867 Joseph Lister publishes Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery, one of the most important developments in medicine. Lister was convinced of the need for cleanliness in the operating room, a revolutionary idea at the time. He develops antiseptic surgical methods, using carbolic acid to clean wounds and surgical instruments. The immediate success of his methods leads to general adoption. In one hospital that adopts his methods, deaths from infection decrease from nearly 60% to just 4%.
1870s Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch establish the germ theory of disease. According to germ theory, a specific disease is caused by a specific organism. Before this discovery, most doctors believe diseases are caused by spontaneous generation. In fact, doctors would perform autopsies on people who died of infectious diseases and then care for living patients without washing their hands, not realizing that they were therefore transmitting the disease.
1879 First vaccine for cholera
1881 First vaccine for anthrax
1882 First vaccine for rabies
1890 Emil von Behring discovers antitoxins and uses them to develop tetanus and diphtheria vaccines.
1895 German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen discovers X rays.
1896 First vaccine for typhoid fever.
1897 Ronald Ross, a British officer in the Indian Medical Service, demonstrates that malaria parasites are transmitted via mosquitoes, although French army surgeon Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran identified parasites in the blood of a malaria patient in 1880. The treatment for malaria was identified much earlier (and is still used today). The Qinghao plant (Artemisia annua) was described in a Chinese medical treatise from the 2nd century BCE; the active ingredient, known as artemisinin, was isolated by Chinese scientists in 1971 and is still used today. The more commonly known treatment, quinine, was derived from the bark of a tree called Peruvian bark or Cinchona and was introduced to the Spanish by indigenous people in South America during the 17th century.
1897 First vaccine for plague.
1899 Felix Hoffman develops aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid). The juice from willow tree bark had been used as early as 400 BC to relieve pain. 19th century scientists knew that it was the salicylic acid in the willow that made it work, but it irritated the lining of the mouth and stomach. Hoffman synthesizes acetyl salicylic acid, developing what is now the most widely used medicine in the world.
1901 Austrian-American Karl Landsteiner describes blood compatibility and rejection (i.e., what happens when a person receives a blood transfusion from another human of either compatible or incompatible blood type), developing the ABO system of blood typing. This system classifies the bloods of human beings into A, B, AB, and O groups. Landsteiner receives the 1930 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for this discovery.
1906 Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins suggests the existence of vitamins and concludes they are essential to health. Receives the 1929 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
1907 First successful human blood transfusion using Landsteiner's ABO blood typing technique
1913 Dr. Paul Dudley White becomes one of America's first cardiologists, a doctor specializing in the heart and its functions, and a pioneer in use of the electrocardiograph, exploring its potential as a diagnostic tool.
1921 Edward Mellanby discovers vitamin D and shows that its absence causes rickets.
1922 Insulin first used to treat diabetes.
1923 First vaccine for diphtheria.
1926 First vaccine for pertussis (whooping cough).
1927 First vaccine for tuberculosis.
1927 First vaccine for tetanus.
1928 Scottish bacteriologist Sir Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin. He shares the 1945 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Ernst Chain and Sir Howard Florey.
1935 First vaccine for yellow fever.
1935 Dr. John H. Gibbon, Jr. , successfully uses a heart-lung machine for extracorporeal circulation of a cat (i.e., all the heart and lung functions are handled by the machine while surgery is performed). Dr. Gibbon uses this method successfully on a human in 1953. It is now commonly used in open heart surgery.
1937 First vaccine for typhus.
1937 Bernard Fantus starts the first blood bank at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, using a 2% solution of sodium citrate to preserve the blood. Refrigerated blood lasts ten days.
1943 Microbiologist Selman A. Waksman discovers the antibiotic streptomycin, later used in the treatment of tuberculosis and other diseases.
1945 First vaccine for influenza.
1952 Paul Zoll develops the first cardiac pacemaker to control irregular heartbeat.
1953 James Watson and Francis Crick at Cambridge University describe the structure of the DNA molecule. Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin at King's College in London are also studying DNA. (Wilkins in fact shares Franklin's data with Watson and Crick without her knowledge.) Watson, Crick, and Wilkins share the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962 (Franklin had died and the Nobel Prize only goes to living recipients).
1954 Dr. Joseph E. Murray performs the first kidney transplant between identical twins.
1955 Jonas Salk develops the first polio.
1957 Dr. Willem Kolff and Dr. Tetsuzo Akutzu implant the first artificial heart in a dog. The animal survives 90 minutes.
1962 First oral polio vaccine (as an alternative to the injected vaccine).
1964 Firstvaccine for measles.
1967 First vaccine for mumps.
1967 South African heart surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard performs the first human heart transplant.
1970 First vaccine for rubella.
1974 First vaccine for chicken pox.
1977 First vaccine for pneumonia.
1978 First test-tube baby is born in the U.K.
1978 First vaccine for meningitis.
1980 W.H.O. (World Health Organization) announces smallpox is eradicated.
1981 First vaccine for hepatitis B.
1982 Dr. William DeVries implants the Jarvik-7 artificial heart into patient Barney Clark. Clark lives 112 days.
1983 HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is identified.
1992 First vaccine for hepatitis A.
1996 Dolly the sheep becomes the first mammal cloned from an adult cell (dies in 2003).
1998 First vaccine for lyme disease.
2000 First draft of human genome is announced; the finalized version is released three years later.
2006 A "mini-liver"—the size of a small coin—is generated from human cord blood stem cells by doctors at Newcastle University, U.K.
2007 Scientists discover how to use human skin cells to create embryonic stem cells.

The FDA approves the first human clinical trials in the United States for a wearable artificial kidney designed by Blood Purification Technologies Inc. out of Beverly Hills, California.

2015 In March, DNA from an extinct woolly mammoth is spliced into that of an elephant. Scientists then successfully use the "revived" DNA to sequence the mammoth's complete genome.
2016 The success of an first-time experimental surgery will determine future availability for U.S. cancer patients and veterans with injuries to the pelvic region. On May 8, 2016, a man named Thomas Manning is the first man to receive a penis transplant at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Manning's recovery from the surgery is going well; John Hopkins University School of Medicine is also hoping to start providing the surgery soon.




Brewer's: Health
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