10 medical innovations that changed the world: Devices and technology

20170317110000, Brenda Lau
While new medical innovations are dreamed up faster than ever before in today’s world, here are 10 of the most revolutionary ones across the decades.
Many devices and technologies have played a role in the advancement of diagnostic medicine, administering of drugs and prolonging life. However, many healthcare professionals take them for granted without knowing how they came about.

Here are 10 medical innovations that have been highlighted due to their importance in the advancement of the medical world.


1. Stethoscope

Invented by Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec in 1816, the first stethoscope was a wooden tube and was monaural. He invented the stethoscope as he was uncomfortable with placing his ear on women's chests to hear heart sounds. In 1851, Irish physician Arthur Leared invented a binaural stethoscope and a year later, George Philip Cammann perfected the design of the stethoscope instrument for commercial production. More than a century later, the stethoscope received many alterations and the most notable, in 1999, Richard Deslauriers patented the first external noise reducing stethoscope.

2. Artificial heart

Robert Jarvik, is widely known as the inventor of the first successful permanent artificial heart, the Jarvik 7. The first implantation of the Jarvik 7 was in 1982, in patient Barney Clark, but he shortly passed away 112 days later. As of September 2014, there have been 1,413 implants of all artificial heart designs, but the SynCardia temporray Total Artificial Heart and its direct predecessors accounted for 1,352 of all implants. All artificial hearts are used as a temporary device for patients waiting for transplants.

3. Syringe

The first syringes were used in Roman times but it wasn't until 1853 when Charles Pravaz and Alexander Wood developed a medical hypodermic syringe with a needle fine enough to pierce the skin. Through the next century, the syringe saw many alterations including the development of a hand-syringe and an all-glass syringe to allow mass-sterilisation before its conversion to a disposable plastic syringe. In 1951 particularly, Rothauser produced the first injection-moulded syringes that could be heat-sterilised.

4. Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging was invented by Paul C. Lauterbur in September 1971 and in the late 1970s, Peter Mansfield, a physicist and professor at the University of Nottingham, England, developed the echo-planar imaging (EPI) technique, which led to quicker scans and clearer images than Lauterbur's technique. Mansfield also became the first person to be scanned by stepping into his own machine to test it out. Together, they were awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for reflecting the fundamental importance and applicability of MRI in medicine.

5. Electrocardiography

While there were many reports of recording patients' heartbeats through wires in the 1870s, the initial breakthrough arrived in 1901 when Willem Einthovern from Leiden, the Netherlands, used a more sensitive string galvanometer - the first practical electrocardiograph. He then described the different electrocardiographic features of a number of cardiovascular disorders and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1924 for his discovery.

6. Antiseptic

Prior attempts to introduce antiseptic surgical methods failed until 1867 when Joseph Lister published the paper Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery. Lister advocated the use of carbolic acid as a method of killing any germs present on the skin or living tissue of the patient.

7. Dialysis

In 1943, a Dutch physician, Willem Johan Kolff, constructed the first working dialyzer using sausage casings, beverage cans, a washing machine, and various other items available at the time. Over the next two years, he treated 16 patients suffering from acute kidney failure, but was unsuccessful. In 1945, a 67-year-old comatose woman regained consciousness after 11 hours of haemodialysis and lived for another seven years, becoming the first patient to be successfully treated with dialysis. Dr Nils Alwall then created the first truly practical device for haemodialysis by enclosing Kolff's machine in a stainless steel canister that allows the removal of fluids.

8. Laparoscopic surgery

Laparoscopic surgery was first performed by Georg Kelling in 1901, in Germany on dogs and in 1910, Hans Christian Jacobaeus of Sweden performed it on humans. However over the next century, the laparoscopic procedure was modernised, patented and incorporated robots as well. One of the most widely known robotic surgery machines, the "da Vinci", was created in 1999 and has treated more than 775,000 patients worldwide.

9. X-ray

X-rays were discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, a professor at Wuerzburg University in Germany and announced his discovery in January 1896. The first use of x-rays under clinical conditions was by John Hall-Edwards in Birmingham, England who radiographed a needle stuck in the hand of an associate. Over the years, many developments have allowed x-rays to be emitted at lower energies and less harmful levels to human cells.

10. Ultrasound

Obstetrician Ian Donald and engineer Tom Brown developed the first prototype systems of an ultrasound based on an instrument used to detect industrial flaws in ships. They perfected it for clinical use and performed the first ultrasound in 1956 in Glasgow. It was slow in gaining popularity but by the end of the 20th century, ultrasound imagining had become routine in maternity clinics throughout the developed world. MIMS

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