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Medicine's 10 Greatest Discoveries

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 1999

    History of Medicine made easy..

    When I ordered this book, I was intrigued by the title, but expected no more than another history book. Instead I found much more. This very readable book tells us how pivotal discoveries in Medicine came about. Not through logic, reason and application of the Scientific Method. But by chance observation, serendipity and a willingness to consider something new. Vesalius awoke the medical community to the science of Anatomy after 14 centuries of fervent adherence to the preachings of Galen. This fanatical Paduan anatomist turned to human dissection to find out the facts in this age of enlightenment. He gifted his encyclopedic knowledge to Charles V in his biobligraphic marvel 'De humani corpus fabrica' in 1543, 700 pages of typographic and illustrative excellence, a publication so scientific that it can be considered to have initiated medical science itself. William Harvey's description of the circulation of the blood relied heavily on the works of Galen, Servatus (burned at the stake for his contribution to anatomy), and Colombo - and yet no credit was given to them. The English were eager to nominate their first Medical hero, Harvey, in his description of the nature of the heart and circulation. The careful planning of Royal Society allegiances, and his cautious 'adjustments' to Galenic theories allowed him to state, in 'De motu cordis' the words 'I began to think whether there might be a motion, as it were, in a circle..' Simply by measuring the amount of blood in a dog's left ventricle, and multiplying it by the heartrate, he concluded all of the blood volume would be expelled in a minute - hence the need for re-circulation. The authors continue to tempt your curiosity with other pioneering discoveries. The 'little creatures' brought to light by the eccentric Dutch haberdasher, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and his microscope, ushered in the science of bacteriology. How would the chemist, Pasteur, have succeeded in helping French vintners without an appreciation of the world of yeasts and moulds without such an advance? When the idea that a microbe would ever be found to explain puerperal sepsis, Pasteur drew a small chain of beadlike structure on the blackboard, saying 'I'll show you a microbe..' Pasteur's success with anthrax and rabies, and Koch's with tuberculosis, are seminal works, despite their proponents rivalry and isolationism. Both of these scientific giants changed the course of history with a simple draper's invention. We learn, in these chapters, not only of discovery, but of the circumstance of great men. For example, Edward Jenner was acknowledged as an orthithologist, an inducted into the Royal College for his work on the migration of birds. Not for his work on vaccination against smallpox, a scourge that killed 20-40% of those afflicted, and scarred many more. It was his ability to interpret animal findings, and apply them to the human population, that gave him the courage to innoculate cowpox into James Phipps left arm, conferring subsequent immunity to smallpox. We learn that anaesthesia had several inventors. Crawford Long, in 1842, commented that bruising after one of his 'laughing gas parties' had been relatively painless, as was the dental extraction he attempted on a willing anaesthetised subject. There were several contenders as to who was 'first' in this field. Co-invention may have occurred, but scourilous characters made false claims that muddied the waters of science. What would have happened if Wilhelm Roentgen hadn't noticed the fluorescence of a scrap of metal by his Coomb's tube, and attributed it to a new type of radiation? And if he hadn't invited his wife to his downstairs lab, and exposed her hand to the first x-rays, who would have thought these bones could have been visualised? Ross Harrison was not someone I knew much about, but his work on tissue-culture allowed us to study cell function, promote the development of modern vaccines, and aid

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