If you are born in 1920, then your life expectancy is 59 years. Well, you should be dead by now. If you are born in 1940, then your life expectancy is 65 years. You are probably reading this column. If you are born in 1993, then your life expectancy is 78 years. You are out somewhere having fun.
The 20th century has seen many medical inventions that have completely changed our lives. Not only we live longer than our forefathers but we are healthier and perhaps better looking as well.
Canadian researchers have contributed quite well to our health and longevity. Here are some examples.
In 1922, Canadian researchers: F. Banting, C. H. Best, J. R. R. McLeod, and J. B. Collip discovered insulin. This has revolutionized the treatment of diabetes. Normally, the pancreas produces insulin. Diabetes is a condition when there is not enough insulin in the system to metabolize sugar.
In 1926, J. B. Collip also discovered the hormone – parathormon – that controls the calcium balance in our body. Four tiny glands behind the thyroid normally produce this hormone. If these glands fail, the calcium level rises resulting in many complications.
In 1972, another Canadian made a significant contribution to improve our health. William Bigelow had a role in the introduction of cardiac pacemaker. This is needed to stabilize cardiac rhythm. More than half a million people worldwide are fitted with pacemakers.
Scientists from all over the world have helped us stay healthy. At the dawn of the 20th century, we were struggling with typhoid, malaria, syphilis, tuberculosis and yellow fever. All these conditions are now under control. Now we are struggling with AIDS.
In 1929, Alexander Fleming of UK recognized penicillin. When he discovered the bacteria-eating mold, he failed to capitalize on his discovery. It was in 1938, that two Oxford University scientists, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, found ways to produce penicillin. In 1942, they showed that penicillin could be used for treating infections. For this they won the Nobel Prize.
Vaccinations, blood typing, contact lenses, the pill, and minimally invasive surgery have changed the way we think about medicine. Body scanners have allowed us to look at the minutest structures of our anatomy.
In 1963, Alan Cormack, a South African physicist working at Tufts University, demonstrated a crude prototype of computerized tomographic (CT) scanner. But it was Englands Godfrey Hounsfield, an engineer at the music company, EMI, realized he could get an image of a slice inside an object by sending x-ray beams through it from a variety of angles.
In 1979, Commack and Hounsfield shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for the invention of CT scan.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is currently the most talked about and sought after modern day invention. CT scan is based on exposure to radiation. It cannot make images of the inside of bones. But MRI reconstructs images from data generated by protons inside the nuclei of hydrogen atoms. It can get details within the bones themselves. That is why it is so exciting!
These are just few examples out of the hundreds of inventions and discoveries of this millennium. It is wonderful to think what human minds and hands can do. We know more exciting times are ahead of us. It will be fun to be part of the new millennium!
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