13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World

Inventions like functional magnetic resonance imaging, the artificial heart, and disposable catheter changed medicine forever.
Kashyap Vyas
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  • Medical science is one of the most scientifically progressive fields.
  • Over the years, breakthroughs in medical science have either created an alternative to dangerous or ineffective procedures or have found new solutions to historic challenges.
  • Technology has played a significant role in many of these medical changes. 

Today we will look back on the inventions that revolutionized medical science and changed the world forever.

1. Medical thermometer

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Pixabay

Thermometers are so ubiquitous today, yet we are not exactly sure who invented the device. Gabriel Fahrenheit first invented the mercury thermometer in 1714, which is still in use today. However, the first device used to measure temperature appeared in the 1500s and was created by Galileo.

The device was based on the simple principle that a liquid’s density changes with respect to its temperature. Nevertheless, mercury thermometers are being phased out in favor of digital thermometers due to the poisonous nature of mercury.  

2. Stethoscope

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Dr.Farouk/Flickr

Before the stethoscope was invented, doctors would listen to their patient's heartbeats by putting their ears onto their chests, a quite crude and inefficient method. For instance, if there was considerable insulation between the actual heart and the exterior of his chest in the form of fat, this method failed.

French physician René Laënnec faced a similar situation when he couldn't accurately judge one of his patients' heart rates on account that the patient had too much fat on him. He invented the 'stethoscope,' creating a trumpet-shaped wooden tube that amplified sounds coming from the lungs and the heart. That principle of sound amplification has yet to change.

 3. X-Ray imaging

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Tom Page/Flickr

It’s hard to imagine the correct diagnosis and treatment of injuries as common as fractures without x-ray imaging technology. X-rays were accidentally discovered when German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was studying electric currents passing through a gas of extremely low pressure.

He observed that in a darkened room, the cathode ray tube covered with barium platinocyanide caused a fluorescent effect. Since the cathode rays are invisible, he didn’t know what the rays were and named it X-radiation for its unknown nature. He won the first-ever Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 for his discovery.

The initial reception to the discovery, however, was met with hostility and mockery with a New York Times journalist referring to it as “an alleged discovery of a method to photograph the invisible”.

 4. Antibiotics

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: oliver.dodd/Flickr

People most commonly associate the advent of antibiotics with Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. In actuality, the age of antibiotics began in 1907 with the creation of Salvarsan by Alfred Bertheim and Paul Ehrlich. Today this Salvarsan is known as Arsphenamine. It was the first drug to effectively counter Syphilis, marking the beginning of anti-bacterial treatment.

Alexander Fleming’s discovery of anti-bacterial property of Penicillium Notatum in 1928 was when antibiotics started gaining mass attention. Today, antibiotics have revolutionized medicine, and in combination with vaccines have helped with eradicating diseases like tuberculosis.

5. Hypodermic Needle

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Pixabay

A hypodermic needle with its austere appearance and a simple working principle was invented only about 150 years ago. Before that in ancient Greece and Rome, physicians used thin hollow tools to inject fluids into the body. In 1656, a dog was given an intravenous injection via a goose quill by Christopher Wren.

The modern hypodermic needle was invented by Charles Pravaz and Alexander Wood somewhere in the mid-1800s. Today, these needles are used to deliver the correct drug dosage in treatment and extract body fluids with minimal pain and risk of contamination.

6. Spectacles

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Ben Jeffrey/Flickr

Spectacles are one of the other medical breakthroughs that people usually take for granted. There is no significant evidence to determine any singular person to credit with the invention of the specs. Centuries ago, scholars and monks used an early prototype of the modern spectacles which had to be held in front of a wearer's eyes while reading or balanced on the nose (there were no arms to anchor them to ears).

With the increased availability of printed books in the late 1800s, the cases of myopia increased, which led to the introduction of spectacles to the masses.

7. Cardiac Pacemaker

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Pixabay

This milestone invention was the fruit of two Australian scientists’ labor, Mark C. Hill and physicist Edgar H. Booth in 1926. The prototype was a portable setup consisting of two poles, one connected with a salt solution-soaked skin pad and the other to a needle that was inserted into the patient's heart chamber.

Despite such a crude design they both successfully brought back to life a stillborn baby. Today pacemakers are much more sophisticated with an average battery life of 20 years.

8. CT Scanner and MRI

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Pixabay

The discovery of the x-rays led to a surge in the efforts to search for methods to access even more details without cutting open a body. This subsequently led to the invention of the CT scanner. Its commercial version was invented by Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield who received a Nobel Prize for medicine in 1979. This device was able to display multiple layers within multiple x-ray images.

Soon after, Dr. Raymond V. Damadian invented a technique to differentiate between cancerous and normal cells using nuclear magnetic resonance which later was improved and called functional magnetic resonance imaging or MRI.

9. Prosthetics, Bionic Prosthetics, and Implants

The invention of prosthetics has been a big breakthrough, enabling the physically handicapped to live a life that is not limited to wheelchairs and crutches. Nevertheless, the first iterations of this invention were limiting. Over the years prosthesis technology has blossomed offering wearers more flexibility and mobility. Bionic prosthetics would eventually follow, coming to fruition in 1980. 

Modern bionic prosthetics are made from carbon fiber making them lighter and stronger than metal. The durable artificial limb is intuitive, features, inbuilt myoelectric sensors that enable gripping and holding, may incorporate 3D printed technologies, can connect to a wearer's mind, and may eventually allow wearers to feel objects again. It will be interesting to see how artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to improve the modern bionic prosthesis.

 10. Cardiac Defibrillator

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Pixabay

Defibrillation of the heart isn’t a very recent concept, it has been known for decades, but its introduction into a clinical setting was brought about by Claude Beck when he successfully defibrillated a young boy’s heart during surgery. Today, defibrillators save millions of lives from the brink of death around the world.

11. The Artificial Heart 

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: rick proser/Wikimedia Commons

The heart is the most important organ in our body, keeping us alive and transporting blood to various parts of our body. One of the leading causes of death is heart disease.  Aside from standard medication and medical treatments, transplants are a great option to combat these statistics.

Yet, the number of patients who need a heart transplant far exceeds the supply. Though the ideas of the artificial heart can be traced all the way back to Jean Cesar LeGallois in 1812, with multiple variations over time, Dr. Robert Jarvik is the first person to create a permanent artificial heart, in 1982. The artificial heart has evolved over the decades saving countless lives. 

12. Disposable Catheters

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World
Source: Ivan/iStock

Modern disposable catheters were invented in the 1940s by David S. Sheridan, a man who is also known as the Catheter King. Either related to illness or accident, there are people around the world that suffer from a neurological disorder that impairs or even makes it impossible to naturally empty their bladder.

Disposable catheters give these people the opportunity to live lives relatively normal lives through the process of intermittent self-catheterization.  

13. Molecular Breast Imaging

13 Medical Inventions That Changed the Medical World

Molecular breast imaging is the process of using a radioactive tracer and a special camera to find breast cancer. The invention is revolutionary. Mammography is still one of the primary tools for the screening of breast cancer. However, this screening test is known to underperform in some women. 

Molecular breast imaging (MBI) could become a great supplemental technique. MBI screening tests have garnered traction over the past two decades because they are easy to disseminate, have high patient acceptance, and can be widely adopted. 

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