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  • Medical Timeline

  • 1900-1910

    • 1901 - Karl Landsteiner discovers the existence of different human blood types.
    • 1901 - Alois Alzheimer identifies the first case of what becomes known as Alzheimer's disease.
    • 1903 - Willem Einthoven discovers electrocardiography (ECG/EKG).
    • 1906 - Belgian scientists Jules Bordet and Octave Gengou identify Bordetella pertussis, the bacterium that causes pertussis (whooping cough).
    • 1906 - Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin develop the first successful vaccine for tuberculosis.
    • 1906 - Frederick Hopkins conducts a series of experiments on rats, feeding them pure carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, fats and water. Monitoring their growth, he discovers that the rats whose feed has been mixed with butter are healthier than those whose feed is mixed with lard. He then adds milk to the diet of the rats fed with lard and finds that their health improves. From these experiments, he concludes that small amounts of "accessory food factors" are necessary for survival. These accessory food factors are now known as vitamins-and the difference between butter and lard is that butter contains vitamins A and D, while lard does not.
    • 1907 - Paul Ehrlich develops a chemotherapeutic cure for sleeping sickness.
    • 1909 - Paul Ehrlich develops the first antimicrobial agent, salvarsan. An arsenic-based drug, it proves to be an effective treatment for syphilis.
    • 1909 - Archibald Garrod discovers that some diseases are caused by genes and therefore inherited.
    • 1910 - William Bateson and Reginald Punnet first map a gene to a chromosome.

    1911-1920

    • 1913 - Paul Dudley White, MD, one of America's first cardiologists, pioneers the electrocardiograph as a diagnostic tool.
    • 1913 - German physician Emil von Behring develops the first successful vaccine for diphtheria.
    • 1918-1919 - An influenza pandemic kills an estimated 675,000 Americans and between 20-40 million people worldwide-the greatest death toll by disease in world history. The epidemic is unusual in that it is deadliest for people between 15 and 35 years old. It is also capable of killing within hours of infection. Arriving during World War I, the disease spreads quickly in America as troops move from camp to camp in the United States before being sent to battle in Europe. Physicians noted that many patients who appeared to be recovering from the flu suddenly sickened and died; 90 years later, researchers discover that the majority of deaths were caused by bacterial pneumonia, which invaded the lungs after the influenza virus destroyed the cells that line the bronchial tubes and lungs.

    1921- 1930

    • 1921 - Edward Mellanby discovers vitamin D and shows that its absence causes rickets.
    • 1921 - Frederick Banting and Charles Best discover insulin.
    • 1921 - Fidel Pagés pioneers epidural anesthesia.
    • 1924 - P. Descombey develops a tetanus toxoid vaccine, which is widely used in World War II to prevent tetanus caused by battle wounds.
    • 1926 - American physician Louis Sauer develops a vaccine for pertussis.
    • 1928 - The age of antibiotics begins. Although the existence of bacteria had been known for centuries, and Pasteur had shown that some bacteria caused disease, no one had discovered how to safely kill harmful ones. British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming had accidentally discovered that substances in the human body could destroy some bacteria, and had been trying to isolate a chemical that would be effective against a broad range of harmful bacteria. In the midst of this research, he went on vacation-leaving behind a stack of Petri dishes. When he returns, he notices that some of the dishes have been contaminated by mold, and that the bacteria in the contaminated dishes appear to have been killed by the mold. He consults a mycologist (a mold expert) and learns that it is Penicillium mold. Further research shows that the mold is harmless to humans but it will be several decades before scientists are able to isolate penicillin and mass produce what's been called "the miracle drug of the 20th century."

    "The electroencephalograph: a high sounding name for a complicated piece of apparatus which records brain waves from as many as 8 different chosen parts of the head at once. A very sensitive indicator, it is useful in brain surgery, in diagnosis of Epilepsies and in other related conditions. It is now possible to pin point the extent of a brain injury more completely than was possible before." -excerpted from the 1951 Rhode Island Hospital Annual Report
    • 1929 - Hans Berger discovers human electroencephalography.

    1931-1940

    • 1931 - German physicist Ernst Ruska and electrical engineer Max Knoll build the first electron microscope.
    • 1932 - Gerhard Domagk develops a chemotherapeutic cure for streptococcus.
    • 1935 - The first vaccine for yellow fever is developed.
    • 1936 - Egas Moniz discovers prefrontal lobotomy to treat mental illness.
    • 1936 - Enrique Finochietto develops the self-retaining thoracic retractor.
    • 1937 - Albert Szent-Gyorgyi and Hans Krebs discover the citric acid cycle. Known as the Krebs cycle or the Szent-Gyorgyi-Krebs cycle, it is a series of chemical reactions through which all aerobic organisms (those that require oxygen to grow) turn carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy.
    • 1938 - Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini discover electroconvulsive therapy.

    1941-1950

    • 1943 - Willem J. Kolff builds the first dialysis machine.
    • 1944 - David Sheridan develops a disposable catheter.
    • 1944 - Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty discover evidence that DNA is the genetic material in bacteria.
    • 1945 - Edward Tatum and George Beadle propose the one gene, one enzyme hypothesis.
    • 1946 - Alfred G. Gilman and Louis S. Goodman pioneer chemotherapy.
    • 1947 - Claude Beck designs a defibrillator.
    • 1948 - Julius Axelrod and Bernard Brodie develop acetaminophen.
    • 1949 - Sir Harold Ridley performs the first artificial intraocular lens implant to correct cataracts, a common cause of blindness. An ophthalmologist, Ridley notices that plexiglass fragments from fighter-plane canopies are inert in the eyes of injured pilots. He designs a thin, transparent plastic lens that can be inserted into the eye to replace a natural lens that has been clouded by a cataract. Within a few years, he transplants more than 1,000 intraocular lenses. However, decades pass before the lens implant becomes an accepted treatment for cataracts, one of the most common causes of blindness. Today, about 3 million Americans have lens implant surgery every year.

    1951-1960

    • 1952 - Jonas Salk develops the first polio vaccine, which becomes available in 1955.
    • 1952 - French surgeon Henri Laborit discovers the first drug to treat a mental illness. Laborit wanted to reduce surgical shock in his patients. Much of the shock came from the anesthesia, and he thought that if he used less anesthesia his patients might recover more quickly. Laborit knows that shock is the result of the action of chemicals in the brain and hopes to find a chemical that will counteract the chemicals. When he tries antihistamines, he notices that a large dose causes his patients to feel less nervous about their scheduled surgery and he's able to operate using less anesthesia. Laborit is so impressed by the effects of one particular drug, chlorpromazine (Thorazine) that he continues to urge that the drug be tried on patients with mental illness, even though psychiatrists around the world believe that the only effective therapy is shock therapy or psychotherapy. After some time, Laborit's work comes to the attention of psychiatrist Pierre Deniker, who tries chlorpromazine on his most agitated, uncontrollable patients. The results are stunning. Patients who had to be restrained because of violent behavior become calm and can be left without supervision. Deniker helps convince U.S. practitioners to try the drug and the medical community is so amazed that the new therapy is reported on television. Although the drug is not without side effects, it has a calming effect without sedating patients, allowing them to live a more normal life. By 1964, 50 million people around the world have taken the drug. 
    • 1952 - American scientists Robert Briggs and Thomas King clone northern leopard frogs.
    • 1952 - Jonas Salk develops the first effective polio vaccine.
    • 1953 - American physician John Heysham Gibbon builds the first heart-lung machine.
    • 1953 - American scientist James Watson and British researcher Francis Crick identify the structure of DNA-the double helix.
    • 1953 - Swedish cardiologist Inge Edler is the first to use ultrasound to diagnose heart disease, beginning the era of clinical echocardiography.
    • 1954 - Joseph Murray performs the first human kidney transplant (on identical twins).
    • 1955 - Tetracycline is developed by Lloyd Conover.
    • 1956 - Canadian physician Thomas Chang invents synthetic blood.
    • 1957 - William Grey Walter invents the brain EEG topography. 
    • 1958 - Swedish scientist Rune Elmqvist invents the implantable cardiac pacemaker. Electrical stimulation of the heart was known as early as the eighteenth century. A 1788 paper describes the resuscitation of a three-year-old child who'd fallen from a window: "With the consent of the parents, very humanely tried the effects of electricity. Twenty minutes had at least elapsed before I could apply the shock, which I gave to various parts of the body without any apparent success; but at length, on transmitting a few shocks through thorax, I perceived a small pulsation; soon after that child began to breathe, though with great difficulty. In about 10 minutes she vomited. A kind of stupor remained for some days, but the child was restored to perfect health and spirits in about a week." In 1889, J. A. McWilliam published an article in a British medical journal describing a successful effort to regulate heart function through electrical stimulation. In 1928 Australians Mark Lidwell, MD, and physicist Edgar Booth constructed a portable pacemaker. In 1958, the recipient of the first implantable cardiac pacemaker was Arne Larson. He would receive 26 pacemakers before dying in 2001 at the age of 86.
    • 1959 - Chinese scientist Min Chueh Chang performs the first in vitro fertilization. 
    • 1960 - Austrian surgeon Peter Safar combines mouth-to-mouth breathing and cardiac massage, inventing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
    • 1960 - A Russian physicist files a document with the USSR State Committee for Inventions and Discovery for a magnetic resonance imaging device.
    • 1960 - The first combined oral contraceptive is approved by the FDA.

    1961-1970

    • 1962 – The first successful total hip replacement is performed by British surgeon John Charnley.
    • 1962 – British scientist James Black develops the first beta blocker.
    • 1962 – Albert Sabin develops the first oral polio vaccine.
    • 1962 – British biologist John Gurdon reports a successful effort to clone a frog.  
    • 1963 – Paul Winchell is the first to invent and patent a mechanical artificial heart. Born Paul Wilchinsky, his dream is to become a physician. He attends Columbia University in the pre-med program but his family is unable to afford medical school. At 8, Winchell had contracted polio and during his convalescence had ordered a ventriloquism kit from a magazine. Winchell decides to pursue a career on television—and becomes wildly successful with his most famous creation, Jerry Mahoney—and as a voice actor. At the same time, he builds a career as an inventor, patenting a disposable razor, battery-heated gloves, and an artificial heart. The artificial heart is developed with the help of Henry Heimlich, MD, who also invents the Heimlich maneuver. The first successful implantation of an artificial heart occurs in 1982, by Robert Jarvik, MD. 
    • 1963 – American physician and researcher Thomas Starzl performs the first human liver transplant.
    • 1963 – American surgeon James Hardy performs the first human lung transplant.
    • 1963 – Research chemist Leo Sternbach develops diazepam, the tranquilizer known as Valium.
    • 1964 – John Franklin Enders, MD, develops the first vaccine for measles.
    • 1965 – Frank Pantridge installs the first portable defibrillator.
    • 1965 – Walter Krause and Richard Soldner create the first commercial
    • 1966 – American surgeon Clarence Walton Lillehei performs the first human pancreas transplant.
    • 1967 – The FDA approves a mumps vaccine developed by Maurice Hilleman.
    • 1967 – Christiaan Barnard, MD, performs the first human heart transplant.
    • 1968 – Uruguayan inventor Alejandro Zaffaroni pioneers controlled drug delivery.
    • 1969 – American physician Thomas Fogarty invents the balloon catheter.
    • 1969 – A rubella vaccine developed by researcher Maurice Hilleman is licensed.
    • 1970 – Cyclosporine, the first effective immunosuppressive drug, is introduced in organ transplant practice.

    1971-1980

    • 1971 – American physician Raymond Vahan Damadian publishes a paper reporting the success of nuclear magnetic resonance imaging of tumors.
    • 1971 – Uruguayan scientist Alejandro Zaffaroni invents the transdermal patch.
    • 1971 – British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield invents the first commercial CT scanner.  
    • 1972 – American inventor Dean Kamen invents the first drug infusion pump.
    • 1973 – American chemist Paul Lauterbur develops magnetic resonance imaging.
    • 1973 – American physicist Mani Lal Bhaumik demonstrates the world’s excimer laser, used for refractive eye surgery.
    • 1974 – Italian gynecologist Giorgio Fische invents liposuction.
    • 1974 – Peter C. Doherty and Rolf Zinkernagel, working in an Australian research lab, announce the principles of cell-mediated immunity.
    • 1975 – Georges Kohler and Cesar Milstein describe the feasibility of producing, from mice, continuous cell lines expressing specific antibodies.
    • 1976 – American biophysicist Michael E. Phelps develops the positron emission tomography (PET) scanner. 
    • 1978 – The smallpox virus arose out of Africa, spread to India, China and then to Japan and Europe. Europeans are thought to have brought it to America. Evidence suggests that Egyptian pharaoh Ramses V, who died around Smallpox Vaccine1100 BC, had been infected by the virus. The virus killed up to 30 percent of those infected and by the 18th century, was the leading cause of death in Europe, killing about 400,000 each year. A vaccine was discovered in 1796 by Edward Jenner and subsequently, efforts were made to eradicate the virus. In 1958 the Soviet Union’s Minister of Health called for a global effort to eradicate smallpox. In 1967, the World Health Organization began an annual contribution of more than $2 million to global smallpox eradication; it also adopted a new disease surveillance method promoted by a Czech epidemiologist. By 1975 the disease persisted only in Africa. The last naturally occurring case occurred in 1977, when a hospital cook was diagnosed in Somalia. In 1980, the World Health Organization announced that smallpox had been eradicated—no cases had been reported around the globe in two years. It is the only time in history that an infectious disease has been declared to be eliminated from the planet. 
    • 1979 – American biochemist Gertrude Elion and physician George Hitchings develop antiviral drugs.
    • 1980 – American physician Raymond Damadian builds the first commercial MRI scanner.
    • 1980 – Robert Weinberg identifies the first human oncogene (cancer gene).
    • 1980 – Germany’s Dornier Research Group develops the first lithotripter.
    • 1980 – American physician Baruch S. Blumberg develops the first vaccine for hepatitis B.

    1981-1990

    • 1981 – Trauma physician John Burke and chemistry professor Ioannis Yannas invent artificial skin.
    • syringes1981 – Surgeon Bruce Reitz performs the first successful heart-lung transplant; it also is the first time a lung is transplanted.
    • 1981 – Microbiologist Maurice Hilleman develops the hepatitis B vaccine—and as liver cancer can develop from hepatitis B, it is considered the first time a vaccine against cancer has been developed. It is far from Hilleman’s first vaccine. Raised on a Montana ranch, Hilleman obtains a PhD in microbiology in 1941 and then joins E.R. Squibb & Sons, where he develops a vaccine against Japanese B encephalitis to protect American troops during World War II. After the war, Hilleman takes a job at Walter Reed Army Medical Center until he is persuaded to head a virus research program for Merck. Hilleman makes major contributions in virology, epidemiology, immunology, cancer research and vaccinology. He develops 8 of the 14 vaccines that today are routinely recommended: measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. He also discovers the way the influenza virus mutates. He detects a pattern of genetic changes the virus undergoes as it mutates. The phenomenon is known as drift (minor changes) and shift (major changes). Today, vaccine manufacturers take account of drift in the choosing the strains of influenza virus included in the vaccines that are made each flu season. Hilleman is widely credited with saving more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century.

    • 1982 –American neurologist and biochemist Stanley Prusiner discovers prions.
    • 1982 –American biochemist and geneticist Sidney Pestka develops a procedure to clone interferons.
    • 1983 – French virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi identifies the human immunodeficiency virus.
    • 1984 – The FDA approves a cochlear implant developed by otologist William House.
    • 1984 – British geneticist Alec Jeffreys discovers the technique of genetic fingerprinting.
    • 1985 – American biologist Leroy Hood develops an automated DNA sequencer.
    • 1985 – American chemist Kary Mullis invents the polymerase chain reaction.
    • 1985 – The first brain surgery is performed using a computerized robotic arm, invented by medical researcher Yik San Kwoh.
    • 1985 – Vascular radiologist Julio Palmaz invents the balloon-expandable stent.
    • 1986 – The antidepressant Fluoxetine HCl (marketed under the names Prozac, Sarafem, Fontex) is developed by scientists at Eli Lilly and Co.
    • 1987 – Alfred Alberts and colleagues at Merck Research Laboratories discover lovastatin.
    • 1988 – Ophthalmologist Patricia Bath invents laser cataract surgery.
    • 1989 – Physician Stephen Fodor develops DNA microarray.

    Chromosomes of the human genome1991-2000

    • 1992 – Researchers develop an electroactive polymer (artificial muscle) using silicone and acrylic polymers.
    • 1995 – FDA approves the first vaccine in the United States to prevent hepatitis A.
    • 1998 – Developmental biologist James Thomson isolates a human embryonic stem cell line.
    • 2000 – Human Genome Leaders and President Bill Clinton announce the completion of a “working draft” DNA sequence of the human genome—the “genetic blueprint of human beings.” The project begins in 1990, and is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. The goals of the project are to identify all of the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA; determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA; store this information in databases; improve tools for data analysis; transfer related technologies to the private sector; and address the ethical, legal, and social issues that may arise from the project. The project grows to include research centers in the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany and Spain. The project, President Clinton says, “promises to lead to a new era of molecular medicine…that will bring new ways to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure disease.”

    2001 – present

    • 2001 – Remotely operating a surgical robot arm, a surgeon in the United States, Jacques Marescaux, performs the first telesurgery, removing the gallbladder of a female patient in France.
    • 2001 – Physician Kenneth Matsumura invents the bio-artificial liver.
    • 2001 – Scientist Scott White invents completely autonomous synthetic self-healing material.
    • 2002 – Chitosan bandages, which stop severe bleeding, are invented.

    • 2003 – In February 2003, Italian physician Carlo Urbani, an expert on infectious diseases, is asked to evaluate an American businessman in Hanoi who has fallen ill with what is thought to be avian flu. Urbani examines the man and then learns that the patient has infected nearly two dozen hospital workers. At that point, Urbani suspects that the man has a new and highly contagious disease. He alerts the World Health Organization and convinces Vietnamese officials that they probably have a public health emergency in the making. Calling it Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Urbani triggers the largest and most effective response to a major epidemic in history. By acting quickly, health officials around the world limit the SARS pandemic; however, more than 8,000 people are infected worldwide and more than 800 people die. Among those killed by SARS is Carlo Urbani, who dies in March 2003.

    • Eyeball2005 – French surgeon Jean-Michel Dubernard performs the first partial face transplant.
    • 2006 – The FDA approves a vaccine that blocks infection by two types of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which account for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.
    • 2006 – The FDA approves a vaccine to prevent rotavirus.
    • 2007 – Japanese physician Shinya Yamanaka turns adult skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells, altering the fields of cell biology and stem cell research.
    • 2008 – French surgeon Laurent Lantieri performs the first full face transplant.
    • 2012 – An Australian team implants a bionic eye in a patient blinded by retinitis pigmentosa.