Skip to content

Top 10 Most Important Medical Discoveries


Medication is an ever-evolving field. New discoveries have been made all of the time, but there are a few discoveries which will always stand out as altering human thinking forever. As a result of medicine, diseases are eradicated, babies are produced and disorders that used to be serious are now comparatively mild. So, be thankful for living in the 21st century as we have a look at the Top 10 Most Important Medical Discoveries.


If you have ever visited a museum of naval history, you will inevitably have encounter a screen that shows the way they used to perform surgical procedures on board ships in the 1800s. Amputations were performed on a desk, with the wounded man biting a piece of wood to prevent crying. You probably shuddered then and are likely shuddering now.

Luckily, the late 19th century saw the discovery of anesthetia, which numbs all feeling in the individual. An ancient anaesthetic was cocaine, initially isolated by Karl Koller. It was an effective numbing agent, but as we now know it’s also addictive and open to misuse. Around the same time, chloroform was also used to alleviate pain (as demonstrated by John Snow during one of Queen Victoria’s births), but this also had possibly lethal side-effects. Fortunately, today’s anesthetics are equally safe and effective.

Birth Control

Another huge difference that happened from the late 19th century was that the fall in birth rate as people began choosing to have smaller families. In the UK, for example, the birth rate was 35.5 births per 1,000 people in 1870 and was down to 29 per 1,000 in 1900. This was, in part, because of better education about sex and reproduction but it was also because of better methods of birth control.

In the usa, the “birth control movement” began a couple of years afterwards, when a group of radicals, led by Emma Goodman (above), decided to begin educating their fellow women about contraception to attempt to control the amount of unwanted pregnancies. Their effort was finally successful and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America was formed in 1942. Birth control remains unpopular with some religious groups, but it’s had a profound and undeniable social impact.


Another controversial one today, with the combined vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. It was licensed in 1971, by Maurice Hilleman and instantly had a substantial effect on the amount of measles cases reported, with hundreds of thousands in the US during the 1960s (1966 saw 450,000) decreased to tens of thousands by the 1980s.

The controversy happened much later, in 1998, when Andrew Wakefield was paid by lawyers to discover a way to discredit the MMR. He did this efficiently, by publishing a newspaper asserting that there was a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. The study has since been completely discredited, but the effects on vaccination rates was catastrophic, with the formally removed disease reoccurring in the usa. Similarly, in the UK the number of measles cases had fallen to 56 in 1998 and was up to 1348 in 2008. There’s also an outbreak in the UK in 2013, largely around Wales. MMR rates are now rising again, due to emergency vaccination programs and it may be safely stated that the MMR is a substantial medical breakthrough.


A medical procedure that’s so common that people take it for granted, the X-Ray was detected by accident. Its inventor was Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and on 8 Nov, 1895 he found his cathode ray tube may create some strange pictures. A week afterwards, he x-rayed his wife’s hands and the resulting picture was near our contemporary x-rays — her bones as well as wedding ring were certainly observable, but flesh wasn’t. He called it “X-ray” since the x ray stood for “unknown”, but they’re sometimes called Röntgen rays in his native Germany. He had been awarded the very first Nobel Prize in 1901 and his creation is still utilised in physicians everywhere.


Another breakthrough that’s utilized on a daily basis from insulin, diabetics is that the adrenal hormone which keeps our blood glucose in check. Diabetics are lost this hormone completely (with type 1 diabetes) or create it not in ways their bodies may utilize (form 2). It was first isolated in 1921, by scientists in the University of Toronto, that were later awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery. The next year, a 14-year-old known as Leonard Thompson (above) became the first human to get artificial insulin after coming near a diabetic neuropathy. He awakened following his next dose (the first had been discovered to be impure) and lived another 13 decades.

It is difficult to imagine, provided that diabetics are now able to live quite ordinary lives, but Type 1 Diabetes was a terminal disease. Aside from diet direction, there was not anything which could be done in order to fight the illness. Nowadays, it is not curable but is manageable due to insulin — just as well, since obesity levels are increasing, and diabetes prices together. Insulin could develop into the very valuable medicine in the world…


While birth control was a significant breakthrough in restricting unwanted effects, its reverse in a variety of ways, is equally as significant. In-vitro fertilization is a method of producing pregnancies, for those that don’t have another method of becoming pregnant. The background of IVF dates back to the 1950s, however, it was only in 1978 that the initial “test-tube infant” was born. The next was created a year later in Scotland, though there were unconfirmed reports that there’d been a baby born in India between them both.

Just like any science that’s seen to hinder natural conception, IVF was contentious. It’s still outlawed by the Catholic Church, with its instructing describing infants born through IVF as a “product”. There has also been criticism from different quarters concerning the multi-million dollar character of the IVF industry as well as the consequences of enabling couples to “style” their infant by choosing embryos based on sex etc.. However, for childless couples, IVF is a wonder and it needs to be considered an wonderful breakthrough.

Germ Theory

The discovery of germs was such a huge moment in the history of medicine it completely altered the way that we believe. Before this, patients have been advised to carry things around that appeared bad, so as to ward off the “bad air” or miasma, contamination of particulate thing that got to the atmosphere and caused ailments. The true source of disease — germs have been detected by different scientists, but the breakthrough came from 1854, when John Snow connected an outbreak of cholera to a particular water pump in Broad Street, London.

By isolating the origin of the disease, he can then examine what had been at the water causing it. He tracked it down to a older cesspit, over that the pump was constructed and especially an infant’s nappy that comprised the cholera germs. But, his job had been rejected by the authorities of the moment, since the notion of people breathing in other people’s fecal matter was considered unseemly. A couple of decades later, Louis Pasteur was able to establish germ theory in lab conditions and it’s his name that’s usually connected to the notion. The function of both men resides on, but in much-improved sanitation and resulting in lesser degrees of disorder.


Another groundbreaking drug that’s become so popular that it appears trivial. Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, nearly entirely by accident — a petri dish made immediately showed a mould was actively repelling the germs around it. Fleming developed the anti-biotic and it’s currently utilized to deal with lots of infections and viruses. A fortuitous discovery which has influenced medicine in a deep manner ever since.

Smallpox Vaccination

This is really a success story for vaccinations. Smallpox was a terror of a disorder — murdering in its countless — but it’s been completely eradicated as a result of the vaccine. The last recorded case was in 1977, however, the global figures for its 20th century stand at about 30 million deaths. It was also notorious for murdering tens of thousands in the colonies, as colonists introduced the pox together and handed it on to the natives. The vaccine was detected by Edward Jenner, who’d discovered a milkmaid was resistant to the disease since she had been subjected to cowpox. Jenner isolated the cowpox and utilized them as an effective vaccine. Among the best accomplishments in history.


As fantastic as all of the discoveries have been, there’s simply one that unpicks the fabric of who we are — and that is DNA. It assesses which physiological attributes about people, from eye colour to hereditary disease. It has played its role in IVF, forensics and a lot of different areas. Much like many on our listing, the discovery was that the work of many folks, however, it was Francis Crick and James Watson who initially produced the double-helix version and then won the Nobel Prize. An wonderful insight into what makes us.