Many of the most groundbreaking inventions in our history are born from medical need. As physicians identify new ways to care for their patients' health, the medical field grows in leaps and bounds, improving the quality of life all around the world. Here are four major medical patents from history that were cutting edge for their time, and continue to help millions today.
In 1816, a physician named René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec invented the stethoscope. Previously, doctors would place their ear directly on a patient’s chest to hear their heartbeat, so Laënnec’s invention was developed not only to improve the accuracy of the reading, but also to increase the patient's comfort level and privacy. According to Laënnec’s published work, “A Treatise on the Diseases of the Chest, and on Mediate Auscultation,” the young patient he was treating at the time had a large frame and he was uncomfortable placing his ear on her chest, so he rolled a piece of paper into a cylinder and found that it worked. Laënnec's stethoscope model was shaped like a vintage monocular--but for hearing, of course--and function much like a tin can string telephone. With Laënnec’s invention, the stethoscope became a medical office staple for assessing breathing and heart health.
Insulin is an essential medication for the approximately six million Americans that use it, according to the American Diabetes Association. When Frederick Banting discovered insulin in the 1920’s along with Dr. J.J.R. McLeod, (both of whom would receive the Nobel Prize,) he understood the impact it would have on the medical community. Not wanting to take credit for this discovery that could help so many, Banting sold it to the University of Toronto to save lives. Today, insulin helps people manage their diabetes, although the challenges of affordability continue to plague us.
The Artificial Heart
The artificial heart was revolutionary, as it helped those on an organ donor waiting list continue to live their lives even while waiting for a donor match that would save their lives. The artificial heart was officially patented by Paul Winchell in the 1960’s, though it was Dr. Robert Jarvik’s artificial heart that was successfully implanted into a human in the 1980’s. According to The Heart Foundation, an artificial heart can last years, helping patients live productive lives.
The Medical Zipper
One of the most recent medical innovations is the Zip® Surgical Skin Closure, which zips together flesh instead of sutures or staples after surgery. According to a Business Wire press release, the Zip® Surgical Skin Closure was used in a peer-reviewed prospective study and found that “incisions closed with the Zip Surgical Skin Closure had significantly lower bacterial penetration and fewer symptoms associated with surgical site infection (SSI) than sutures.” This has helped many ease pain or infection issues that can arise with sutures or staples. This modern invention shows how processes for healing have evolved to reflect our changing needs and lifestyles.
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