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History

20th-century methods of diagnosis and treatment

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Methods of diagnosis changed massively during the 20th century.X-rays, CAT scans, MRI imaging, ultrasound scans, endoscopy etc, together with histology and biopsies, started to allow accurate and exact diagnoses of most illnesses as the century progressed. Treatments had to keep up with all the information, so new drugs and procedures were constantly being developed

Key discoveries in treatments

Premature baby in an incubator, attached to electrodes that monitor its heartbeat

Premature baby in an incubator, attached to electrodes that monitor its heartbeat

The list of treatments that finally started to help people cure disease and health problems is a long one. Here are some of the main discoveries:

  1. The discovery of vitamins allowed doctors to prescribe vitamin supplements, which cured beriberi, rickets, pernicious anaemia and pellagra.
  2. In 1921 Banting and Best developed insulin. They could not cure diabetes, but they were able to alleviate its results. Today, doctors use hormone treatments to correct thyroid problems, help children grow, improve sexual performance and shrink cancers.
  3. In 1932, the German scientist Gerhard Domagk discovered that a coal tar product (a sulphonamide called prontosil) killed streptococci bacteria. Other sulphonamides were discovered which could cure pneumonia, meningitis and acne.
  4. During the Second World War, Florey and Chain learned how to mass-produce penicillin - discovered (by chance) in 1928 by the Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming - the first antibiotic. Now, doctors could effectively cure acute infectious disease (although misuse of antibiotics has led to the development of drug-resistant strains of killer diseases such as TB and the MRSA hospital superbug).
  5. The work of Peter Medawar (1950s: Britain) on immuno-suppressants led to the development of anti-histamine, which prevents allergies and operative shock.
  6. After the 1950s, doctors (through contraception) were able to prevent pregnancy, and after the 1970s (through IVF) to help childless women become pregnant (although side effects of the contraceptive pill are thromboses, migraine and jaundice). In 2005, a 66-year-old Romanian woman gave birth to twins.
  7. In the 1950s, doctors used the drug thalidomide to treat morning sickness during pregnancy. It caused terrible deformities in babies, but today is used in the treatment of AIDS, leprosy and some cancers.
  8. In 1952, the Danish surgeon Christian Hamburger used large doses of hormones and surgical operations to change the sex of George Jorgenson, an American army vet, who returned to the US as Christine.
  9. In 1954, Joseph Salk (America) discovered a polio vaccine, which helped eradicate polio from the western world in the 20th century, and which may make it extinct worldwide early in the 21st century.
  10. Doctors started using technology - such as incubators and pacemakers - to help patients. In 2002, American surgeons implanted electrodes connected to a miniature computer into the visual cortex of a blind man. Using a video camera mounted on his glasses, he was able to 'see' well enough to drive a car.

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