Greatest Medical Discoveries in History


Disease has been one of the main causes of human deaths in history, but the number of people being affected by it is slowly diminishing due to the advancements in medicine and healthcare. Of course, these advancements would not be able to exist without the extensive research and testing done by doctors and researchers around the world, as they are the ones who are dedicated to finding a cure for any disease that threatens the existence of mankind. To understand how the state of medicine got to where it is today, let take a look at some of the greatest medical discoveries in history and see how they have contributed to the field immensely.


Before the numbing drug that reduces or even eliminates pain for the patient during surgery was invented, people during ancient times would rather die peacefully than suffer from the excruciating pain brought by surgery. There were several methods that were used to reduce the pain back then, such as applying opium poppy or other herbs on the affected area, but none of those are proven to be 100% effective.

However, in 1846, a man named William T.G. Morton claimed that he had invented the true way to reduce pain for the patient by demonstrating publicly his invention, which included the patient inhaling ether before performing a tooth extraction. Ether then became a popular drug to use for surgeries, until it was eventually replaced by chloroform, a substance that applies its effect faster in the body than ether.


X Ray of a skull

The X-Ray is radiology imaging that is often used to see injuries and damages on the bones, which are invisible to the naked eye. The machine was invented in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, a physics professor in Germany who experimented on radiation to expose the inner workings of the human body’s system. Because of his discovery, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, and the doctors in a hospital in Glasgow founded the first radiology department in 1896.


In the 1800s and the periods beyond that, there were no antibiotics that were created to fight the bacteria living in sickly people’s bodies. Alexander Fleming, who already knew about several types of molds that can be produced to have antibacterial properties, experimented on a specific genus of fungi called “penicillium” and tried to take away the side effects of consuming it.

He was able to successfully retain the positive properties of the genus in 1928, although the government displayed a lack of interest for the invention, mainly due to the fact that Fleming was unable to explain and communicate well the effects of his creation. But, with the lack of proper medicinal items during World War II, Fleming, with the help of the government and other scientists, began mass-producing penicillin as antibiotic for soldiers who were wounded in battle.

Antiviral Drug

After the invention of penicillin, which disrupts the invasion of bacteria in humans, antiviral drugs were then invented to prevent viruses, another pathogen, from causing diseases in the body. It is a known fact that viruses are usually harder to kill or to stop than bacteria, as they would have the ability to hide inside a cell and reproduce within it using a special coat of protein. Since they would stick with cells, they are often difficult to fight since you will have the risk of destroying the host cell while eliminating the virus. Fortunately, antiviral drugs began to be developed in the 1960s to cure viral diseases like herpes, but it wasn’t until the 1980s when impactful research on viruses and how they can be stopped from reproducing truly came into fruition.

Germ Theory of Disease

Centuries before the invention of penicillin, doctors thought that illnesses or diseases would just occur in people without any cause or explanation, although you couldn’t blame them back then since microscopes weren’t widely available, and they are unable to see the real causes of most diseases: bacteria and viruses.

Thankfully, in 1861, a microbiologist named Louis Pasteur was able to determine the cause of these diseases, and he concluded that these illnesses were brought by organisms called pathogens, which live inside certain body parts of a human until they reproduce and spread to other organs and systems. Because of this discovery, the belief of doctors when it comes to illnesses changed after 1891, and several methods of curing these diseases have been developed as they are now capable of pinpointing the cause of the sickness.

Transplant of Organs

In the past, many surgeons have tried transplanting organs of one person to another who needed it the most, but these transplants would often result in failures due to incompatibility. But, in a certainly miraculous turn of events, the first successful transplant occurred in December 1954, when Dr. David Hume and Dr. Joseph Murray transplanted a kidney to a patient. During this procedure, both doctors applied the correct transplantation by aligning the connection between two blood vessels properly and placing the kidney in a location where it won’t disturb the movement of other organs. After their operation, many doctors followed their correct methods and performed a transplant on other parts of the body, such as the lungs in 1963, the heart in 1967, and a fully-functioning hand in 1998.

Stem Cells

Research on stem cells is currently one of the most important studies in the history of medicine because of its focus on finding ways to eradicate cancer cells in the human body. According to studies, stem cells have a special ability to reconstruct itself to copy other cells in the body. Then, it will soon be capable of reproducing more cells, as if it has already been a normal cell in the patient’s body before.

Because of its ability to turn into a normal cell and produce healthy cells, it can help alleviate the painful symptoms of cancer since it can replace both healthy and cancerous cells that were damaged by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Furthermore, researchers suggest that in the future, stem cells may reproduce fast enough to construct larger tissues and organs in the body.



There have been many vaccines that were invented throughout history, but some of the most important ones were created in order to stop fatal illnesses from spreading, and these diseases are smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, rabies, and polio. The first important research that focused on creating a cure for polio was conducted by John Enders, along with Thomas H. Weller and Frederick C. Robbins, who was working at the Children’s Hospital Boston in 1948. These three men were able to grow polio cultures that can be manipulated to be used as a vaccine against polio. Because of their creation, millions of people around the world were saved from polio and were prevented from suffering from the disease since 1961. Enders, Weller, and Robbins received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1954 for their invention.

Thanks to these important medical discoveries, humans are now capable of healing and recovering from injuries and diseases quicker. Although new viruses and bacteria may arise in the future, we can trust our doctors and researchers who would always do their best to create new methods to prevent these pathogens from inflicting illnesses in our bodies

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