History of medical discoveries: from ancient times to the 21st century

"Whatever house I enter, I will enter there for the benefit of the sick" - an excerpt from the doctor's oath, which is attributed to Hippocrates. Since ancient times, medicine has been present in human life. Of course, modern technologies and methods of treatment cannot be compared with those that were used several millennia ago, but our ancestors laid the foundations of this science. Many important discoveries were made in those days, and most of them are still being successfully used.

Each era has become famous for something of its own. Thanks to the painstaking work of archaeologists, historians, left written records, drawings, today we can learn about all this.

Medicine of the Ancient World

Ancient Greek medicine is considered to be the progenitor of modern medicine and pharmaceutics. Most of the historical information remains about him. But in fact, without Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the development of medicine in Ancient Greece would have taken much longer.

The Egyptians constantly studied human anatomy. It was they who owned the first description of the brain, quite accurate and similar to modern versions from the textbook. They also knew such human organs as the heart, muscles, kidneys, intestines, blood vessels. Many documents that have come down to us from this era contain information that was confirmed already in the 20th century. For example, the Smith Papyrus, a medical treatise on the structure of the human body and the surgical treatment of diseases, describes the sprinkling of purulent wounds with bread or wood mold. The effectiveness of this method after several millennia was confirmed by Alexander Fleming, an English bacteriologist who isolated the antibiotic penicillin from the mold, thanks to which he saved many lives. In 1945, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for this discovery.

An equally important discovery, the principle of which the Egyptians could not confirm, but understood its effectiveness - the observance of hygiene and cleanliness. They noticed that the tropical climate, high humidity, frequent floods, and the spread of helminthiases can cause epidemics, so they carefully monitored that the residents wipe themselves with cold water, run, observe moderation in food, and practice early awakenings. There is evidence that doctors were present during the construction of the pyramids. It was their duty to see to it that the workers bathed daily and changed their loincloth. Those who fell ill must be isolated in a separate barrack. And all the temporary buildings in which the builders lived were annually burned and new ones were built. So the Egyptians managed to avoid the transmission of viruses and infections. It was only in the 19th century that Louis Pasteur proved the bacterial cause of most diseases and the possibility of their transmission through poor hygiene and sterility.

A significant contribution to the development of medicine was made in Mesopotamia. It was there that several important technologies for the preparation of medicines were developed: boiling, filtration, dissolution. In addition, the representatives of this ancient country already understood the relationship between taking medicines and meals. And most importantly, it was in Babylon, as part of Mesopotamia, that there was responsibility for the incorrect treatment of a patient. Prior to this, there were no trials of doctors.

Hippocrates, a physician-philosopher from Ancient Greece, is known for his enormous contribution to medicine. Many of his discoveries have been confirmed by modern science and are still used:

  • types of temperaments, although they acquired their names later;
  • staging of diseases, that is, the constant progression of the disease;
  • methods of examination of the patient - palpation, auscultation, percussion;
  • methods of surgical treatment of injuries.
  • Hippocrates was the first to describe the position of hands, light and tools.

And his most important contribution to medicine was the separation of two concepts - philosophy and medicine.

Discoveries of the Middle Ages

Medieval medicine found itself in a difficult situation: the knowledge of ancient doctors was not enough, besides, their works were not read and were banned by the church, and the theoretical base was only started to accumulate. These circumstances contributed to the introduction of new techniques in the treatment of the patient.

An important achievement in medicine in the 9th-16th centuries was the opening of hospitals, they actually became the first institutions that could help a sick person.

In fact, these were shelters for sick homeless people. Initially, there was no special treatment in hospitals, but over time, prototypes of modern hospitals with wards appeared in European countries, where several patients could be.

The process of education of doctors has also improved significantly. The opening of the Salerno Medical School in Italy, where practicing doctors passed on their knowledge, was an excellent start for the development of medicine not only in this country. It was necessary to study for 9 years, practicing surgery and studying anatomy on the corpses of animals and people. In the 12th century, such schools began to turn into universities.

Enough important discoveries have been made in the field of surgery. The Italian surgeon Lucca in the 13th century invented sponges that caused the patient to lose pain sensitivity and consciousness. In fact, it was the prototype of modern anesthesia. At the same time, a surgeon from France, Henri de Mondeville, suggested suturing the wound, and he also opposed probing.

The experience of physicians and scientists in the 16th-19th centuries

The 16th-19th centuries is one of the most significant in medicine, because it was during this period that many important discoveries took place that became a real breakthrough in the development of healing and the ability to save people with more comfortable and safer methods.

Anesthesia: In 1846, during an operation to remove a tumor in the lower jaw, the world's first ether anesthesia was used by surgeon John Warren. He was assisted by the anesthesiologist William Morton. Historical evidence suggests that this was not the first attempt to use anesthesia, but none of them was so widespread. Thanks to this experience, doctors were able to perform operations without pain. Antiseptics: the laurels of its introduction into medicine are attributed to two doctors at once - the Hungarian Semelweis and the British Lister. The first, in 1847, tried to analyze the cause of sepsis in parturient women, and concluded that the doctors themselves were to blame for this, who examine pregnant women and those who gave birth to a child, simply wiping their hands with a handkerchief after visiting the infectious diseases and pathoanatomical department. At his suggestion, all personnel who worked in the maternity ward were ordered to disinfect their hands in bleach. This reduced the death rate among women in labor and newborns by as much as seven times. Then the statistics could not radically change the situation. The doctor was mocked, criticized, and the doctors themselves hated the professor. Semelweis ultimately died in a psychiatric hospital from sepsis after being severely beaten. Joseph Lister was able to achieve success, who, 20 years later, introduced antiseptics into medicine. For this achievement, he was awarded the title of Lord.

Vaccination : appeared in medicine at the end of the 18th century. Before that, both children and adults died from smallpox. And only accidentally discovering the connection between infection with cowpox and the formation of immunity to more serious forms, E. Jenner began to experiment. Based on his research, he was able to develop a vaccine, thanks to which he managed to overcome the disease forever. It was vaccination that gave hope to protect humanity from a pandemic, which is still being successfully used today.

No less significant discoveries for medicine in the 15-19 centuries were the invention of the X-ray machine (1895), the endoscope (1806), the rubber condom (1855).

Brilliant discoveries of the 20th-21st century

The last hundred years of the second millennium were marked by serious progress in medicine. The development of technology, wide access to information, the ability to communicate with colleagues from different countries of the world made it possible to make many significant discoveries. In 1901, the Austrian physician, immunologist, chemist Karl Landsteiner discovered the existence of different blood types and the Rh factor, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1930. The discovery made it possible to carry out complex operations, the result of which could be fatal due to severe blood loss.

Just a few years later, Frederick Gowland Hopkins, an English biochemist, discovered vitamins that stimulate growth. In 1929, he received the Nobel Prize for this discovery, although he was far from the only one who studied vitamins. Over the years, such scientists as Kazimierz Funk, Christian Eikman, and Nikolai Lunin have been studying a group of substances necessary for the human body.


Important events of the 20th century were:

  • the discovery of insulin in 1922 and its administration to a child in a diabetic coma;
  • the invention of vaccines against diphtheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis, tetanus, yellow fever, poliomyelitis ;
  • discovery in 1928 of the antimicrobial properties of penicillin;
  • creation of a kidney dialysis machine, ultrasound machine, computed tomography scanner, magnetic resonance imaging scanner, optical tweezers;
  • first human heart transplant.

The 21st century is not lagging behind in terms of medical discoveries, because scientists and physicians continue to study the human body, develop new devices, tools and medicines. From the beginning of the century to the present day, thousands of discoveries have been made that are difficult to describe. Some of the most significant are:

  • the development of an artificial heart that was implanted in a patient in 2001;
  • creation of a printer for 3D printing of implants;
  • simplification HIV treatment by creating a multicomponent drug Stribild;
  • the use of laparoscopic operations in various fields of medicine, the main advantage of which is minimally invasiveness;
  • development of two-vector vaccines based on RNA.

All these developments, as well as many others that scientists have been working on for many years, will become an excellent basis for the medicine of the future.

Inventions can be used, improved, refuted or confirmed, as we do with the discoveries of past centuries.

  1. Vyborg Interdistrict Hospital. – The Hippocratic Oath.
  2. Portal “Osvita.ua”. – Phenomenal achievement of medicine in Ancient Egypt.
  3. Pharmaceutical website “Pharmacy Economics”. – History of medicine of the ancient world.
  4. Portal of medical materials. – Medicine in Mesopotamia.
  5. Internet-textbook “Education”. – Biography of Hippocrates
  6. Internet portal “CONCEPTURE”. – “How It Works”: “Dark Times”. Medicine of the Middle Ages
  7. Wikipedia. - Medieval medicine.
  8. Website “ANEST-REAN”. – History of anesthesiology.
  9. Site of the Nemovitsky community. - Ignats Semmelweis - the founder of asepsis and the father of hand hygiene.
  10. Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus. – Infectious diseases – past, present, future.
  11. Site of the National University of Bioresources and Nature Conservation of Ukraine. - Karl Landsteiner - Austrian doctor, immunologist, chemist, infectious disease specialist; firstly, the basis of the summancy of different blood types for groups, the Rh factor of the blood.
  12. The official website of the Planet Health pharmacy. – The history of the discovery of vitamins.
  13. Blog “BASETOP” – 10 greatest medical advances of the 21st century.