Medical Discoveries That Have Helped Us Learn More About Our Health

It seems that new medical discoveries are being made every day. Breakthroughs with the potential to improve the accuracy of diagnosis, treat and cure diseases, help us make wise food choices, and allow us to live healthier and longer lives are all over the news. These exciting developments would not be possible without momentous discoveries made in previous centuries.



The 1600s saw the discovery of electricity and the determination that electrical impulses feature in muscle contraction. In the late 1700s, two devices were invented: the galvanometer, which could detect but not measure electrical current, and the rheotome or flowslicer, which could. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the birth of electrocardiography as we know it today, thanks in large part to the efforts of researcher Augustus Waller, who coined the word “cardiograph.”



Even before the advent of the germ theory of disease in the 19th century, an English doctor made a startling discovery. During an outbreak of smallpox in 1788, Edward Jenner noted that individuals who had been exposed to cowpox did not come down with the rampant disease. The physician developed a cowpox vaccination which provided immunity against smallpox. From these chance beginnings came the ability to control and even eradicate the most fearsome diseases.



Back in 1590, Zaccharias Janssen and his son Hans, Dutch eyeglass makers, discovered that a number of lenses in a tube made objects appear much larger. 75 years later, English physicist Robert Hooke noted what he called “pores” or “cells” in a piece of cork. Over the centuries, developments culminated in the electron microscope in 1931 and the scanning tunneling microscope, making 3D viewing possible, in 1981. Today, there are microscopes for everyone from researchers to high school students to young science aficionados and accessories like headrests and cameras. Different varieties of these important tools can be seen at


Vitamins and Nutrition

In the early 1900s, William Fletcher and Frederick Hopkins and co-researchers discovered that certain disorders were the result of nutritional deficiency and that food components were necessary for optimum health. After Hopkins and Polish scientist Cashmir Funk (who coined the term “vitamine” in 1912) developed the vitamin theory of disease, individual nutrients, with the exception of vitamin C, began to be identified. (Scottish naval surgeon James Lund in 1747 determined that a nutrient in citrus fruit warded off scurvy.) These discoveries became the basis for the science centered on the tremendous role nutrition plays in our overall health.


While medicine has come a long way over the centuries, we have the discoveries made by earlier generations to thank for the life-saving technologies and treatments available today.

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