5 Medical Discoveries That Have Changed the World


Here are a five major medical breakthroughs that have changed not just the face of medicine but the world we live in as analyzed by the Professors in Public Health.


The first antibiotic discovered was penicillin, and it was identified by Alexander Fleming in 1928. While doing research on disease-causing bacteria, Fleming noticed that green mold on culture plates prevented bacteria from growing. As a result of his discovery, scientists have been able to nearly eliminate numerous diseases caused by bacteria, such as tuberculosis. Additionally, antibiotics have made it possible to treat a wide range of previously fatal diseases, including syphilis and Typhoid fever. Antibiotics are also commonly used in livestock to prevent the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.


With most vaccines, a weakened or dead organism that is responsible for a disease or condition is administered to an individual. The toxins or surface proteins of an organism may also be used in a vaccine instead of the organism itself. The body’s immune system recognizes the organism and neutralizes the threat it presents. Having done this, a person’s immune system can repeat the process if exposed to an organism again. Discovery of vaccines for smallpox, yellow fever, whooping cough, polio and tuberculosis have nearly eliminated these previously deadly diseases from the modern world.

Germ Theory

Girolamo Fracastoro first proposed germ theory in 1546, but scientific evidence backing up the idea was hard to collect due to the limited technology of the time. Even as late as 1880, germ theory was still something that was only considered one of many possible explanations for why people developed diseases. Germ theory states that numerous diseases are caused by microorganisms, which include bacteria, fungi, and viruses. By finally determining that germs were the cause of a host of medical conditions, medical scientists have been far better able to treat and prevent many diseases, in some cases by simply using sanitary procedures in medical settings.

MRI Scanners

There are a variety of ways that doctors can find out what’s going on inside your body without a scalpel, but magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, offers the ability to do so without the use of X-rays or dyes, both of which can be harmful. Using radio waves and magnetism, images of organs and structures in the body can be created. In addition to generally being safer than X-rays, MRI scans are also frequently able to show issues that other forms of imaging cannot. MRIs have only been around since about 1980, but there are believed to be more than 25,000 scanners in use today.


Significant numbers of people today have diabetes, and it is caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin. Insulin is what the body uses to turn sugar into energy, and without enough insulin to transform sugar into something the body can use, damage to nerves, blood vessels and internal organs can result. Until insulin was discovered and its absence was determined as the cause of diabetes, the condition was often deadly. In 1921, Frederick Banting and Charles H. Best discovered insulin and how it worked when they found that injecting a dog with a hormone they discovered in the pancreas lowered the canine’s blood sugar levels.

While medical technology has made us able to live longer and healthier lives, there’s still a lot of room for growth and improvement. Better understanding of DNA, genetics and imaging technology will improve the medical profession’s ability to treat and prevent the development of diseases and medical conditions.


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