page banner for a timeline of major advances in medicine
page banner for a timeline of major advances in medicine


Innovations are often inspired by the great breakthroughs in science and technology which reshape our world. Here the authors pay tribute to many advances in the history of medicine and the healing it brings to the sick and diseased. We left the dates blank for the reader to fill in when the world’s first head transplant has taken place.

herophilus - scientific dissections

Herophilus (335-280 BC) “the father of anatomy” begins scientific dissection of cadavers


During the Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD) the emergence of hospitals, called Valetudinaria, which cared for wounded soldiers and gladiators, advances the cause of medicine

galen of pergamon - animal dissections

Galen of Pergamon (circa 129-210 AD) uses animal dissections to increase knowledge of anatomy, becoming a highly skilled human surgeon; writes medical classics like On Anatomical Procedure and Of the Uses of the Parts of the Body of Man

da vinci, michelangelo & durer

During the Renaissance (1300-1600) master-artists, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Albrecht Durer, base their extraordinary drawings and paintings of humans and animals on anatomical knowledge derived from dissections

SCIEntific revolution

Europe’s scientific revolution begins in 1543 with the publication of Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres and On the Fabric of the Human Body by Andreas Vesalius

william harvey - blood circulation

William Harvey (1578-1657) publishes his discovery of the circulation of blood in his work Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals in 1628

robert hooke - body cells

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) discovers and coins the term “cell” as the building block of life in his 1665 book Micrographia, which also inspires the use of microscopes for scientific exploration

antonie philips van leeuwenhoek - microbiology

Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723) becomes the “father of microbiology” with detailed observations of bacteria

carl wilhelm scheele - oxygen

Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1786) discovers oxygen in 1772, which is then independently discovered and verified in published writings by Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) in 1774

edward jenner - smallpox vaccine

Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823) pioneers the smallpox vaccine, the world’s first vaccine

gregor mendel - pea breeding

Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) begins his experiments in 1857 with pea breeding, inaugurating the science of what became known as genetics

louis pasteur - vaccination & pasteurisation

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) discovers the critical principles of vaccination and pasteurisation

joseph lister - sterilisation

Joseph Lister (1827 –1912) pioneered antiseptic, or sterile, surgery, including use of phenol for sterilising instruments and cleaning wounds

alexander horsley - neurological surgery

Sir Victor Alexander Haden Horsley (1857 – 1916) pioneered neurological surgery in Britain

harvey cushing - "father of neurosurgery"

Harvey Williams Cushing (1869 –1939), an American neurosurgeon and pathologist, considered by many to be the father of neurosurgery

wilhelm rÖntgen - x-rays

Wilhelm Röntgen (1845-1923) discovers X-rays in 1895

florence nightingale - modern nursing

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the “Lady of the Lamp”, and sometimes described as the founder of modern nursing, gains legendary status for her work caring for the wounded during the Crimean War (1853-1856)

madame marie curie - radium

Madame Marie Curie (1867-1934) uses radium to alleviate suffering, including on wounded soldiers in World War I (1914-1918)

alexander fleming - penicillin

Penicillin, the first great antibiotic of modern times and widely regarded as a wonder-drug, is discovered by Alexander Fleming, Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London in 1928

francis crick & james watson - dna

Francis Crick and James Watson discover DNA in 1951, using X-ray results from Rosalind Franklin

john gibbon - open heart procedure

In 1935, John Gibbon (1903 –1973) develops a machine that could replace the function of a cat’s heart and lungs for 20 minutes, the precursor to the human heart-lung machine; in 1953, Gibbon performs the first successful open heart procedure on a human using cardiopulmonary bypass

peter emil becker - becker muscular dystrophy

Peter Emil Becker (1908-2000) first describes BMD – Becker Muscular Dystrophy

vladimir petrovich demikhov - transplantology

Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov (1916 –1998) pioneers transplantology in the 1950s, even creating a metal artificial heart

immortal cells

Following the death of Henrietta Lacks from cervical cancer in 1951, the world’s first immortal cells are cultivated in a lab, in cell cultures called HeLa, unbeknownst to Henrietta’s family

Dr Per-Ingvar Brånemark - osseointegration

In 1952, Dr Per-Ingvar Brånemark (1929 –2014) discovered that titanium fuses well with bone in a process he named osseointegration, later enabling artificial teeth to be permanently anchored in a patient’s jaw and experimenting with permanent joins for amputees

dr robert white - monkey head transplants

Dr Robert White (1926-2010), inspired by Demikhov, carries out head transplants on monkeys; he practices complex transplant techniques on corpses

dr christiaan barnard - human heart transplant

The world’s first human heart transplant is carried out by Dr Christiaan Barnard’s cardiac team at Groote Schuur Hospital on 3 December, 1967

godfrey hounsfield, allan cormack - ct scan

The CT scan is invented in 1972 by two scientists working independently, Godfrey Hounsfield (EMI, UK)and Allan Cormack (UCT, SA)

raymond damadian - first full body scan

Raymond Damadian performs first full body scan of a human being in 1977 using Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology; contributions to the technology also made by Peter Mansfield and Paul Lauterbur

barney clark - first human to receive permanent artificial heart

In 1982, Barney Clark became the first human to receive a permanent artificial heart, a device known as the Jarvik 7, invented by Robert Jarvik, MD and transplanted by cardiothoracic surgeon Dr William DeVries at the University of Utah Hospital; Clark lived for 112 days on the machine organ.

arthrobot - first robotic surgical assistant

In 1983, Arthrobot becomes the first robot to assist in surgery, inaugurating the era of robotic, or computer-assisted, operations

intelligent prosthetics

The 1990s see the rise of smart or intelligent prosthetics, paving the way for the future of robotic prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by the brain and which provide sensory feedback; an era of bionic prosthetics has already begun with recipients able to control their bionic legs with their thoughts, making use of tiny implanted myoelectric sensors surgically implanted in residual muscle tissue.

nano robot

In 2016, MIT researchers develop a robot which can be swallowed like a pill in a capsule and is controlled in the body via magnetism; it can patch wounds, inject medicine in targeted areas and remove unwanted foreign substances

first head transplant

The world’s first successful head transplant…

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