Living Longer, Living Healthier

Advances in medical science and technology have underpinned the huge leaps in human life expectancy and the quality of life we enjoy today.

Our ancestors and early humans did not usually live long enough to develop many of today’s conditions - such as heart disease, cancer, or loss of mental function. They also didn’t suffer the diseases and conditions resulting from high-calorie foods, over consumption, and sedentary lifestyles – and the ailments and diseases of the modern world. (obesity, diabetes, heart disease…). In a brief look back:

Increasing Life Expectancy

30,000 years and prior. Early man died of injuries in hunting, conflicts, fights, food scarcity, infections, childbirth and malnutrition. Hunter-gatherer diseases were often those spread by animals: rabies, yellow fever, tuberculosis.  Life Expectancy: 30 years

10,000 - 3,000BC Neolithic. Development of agriculture, irrigation & settlement. Settled populations bring contamination of stored food and water supplies; diseases of cholera, smallpox, typhoid, polio, influenzas, malaria. Life Expectancy: 38 years

3000BC – 500AD – Classical. As people moved to live in villages and towns they became more at risk of communicable diseases – smallpox, TB, scarlet fever, gastroenteritis. Water-borne diseases and violence were major causes of death. . Life Expectancy: 35 years   

500 – 1500AD – Medieval. The middle-ages began with increase in life expectancy (to 48 years)  from urbanisation, but famines from crop failure then bubonic plague and black death spread across Europe & Asia. Life Expectancy: 38 years

1500 – 1900 Medieval to Victorian. Urban areas and crowded, dirty cities continued to incur high levels of death by typhus, rickets, diphtheria, cholera & tuberculosis. The 18th and 19th century saw major advances in science. (see Timeline). From the late 19th century, improved public health, sanitation, and water. Pasteur identifies the microbe (germ theory) and the cause. Life Expectancy: 40 years

1900 – 1950  Modern. Major impacts on life quality from medical research, technology and public health. Better living conditions, food security, immunisation, antibiotics (~1930), education of health workforce (hospitals, GP’s, nursing), sanitation. Life Expectancy: 75 years

1950+ Today. Bin the modern world, the biggest killers are based in lifestyle from heart disease, cancer and stroke. Life Expectancy: 85 years

Medical Research – A Timeline  

Advances in medical science and technology have underpinned the huge leap in human life expectancy. These have been achieved through both theoretical and applied research across the ages.

Landmarks in Medical Science

460BC Birth of Hippocrates, begins the study of medicine

300BC Diocles wrote the first known anatomy book

1010 Avicenna writes The Canon of Medicine

1543 Human anatomy. Vesalius publishes De Fabrica Corporis Humani

1590 Microscope. Invented by Zacharius Jannssen.

1670 Blood cells first identified by Anton van Leeuwenhoek

1796 Smallpox vaccine. Edward Jenner develops a process of vaccination for smallpox, the first vaccine for any disease

1816 Stethoscope. French physician Laennec invents the stethoscope, with which the sounds made by the heart and lungs can be heard more clearly.

1818 Blood transfusion. First performed by James Blundell

1847 Chloroform. James Simpson, professor of midwifery at the University of Edinburgh. Uses chloroform as an anaesthetic on humans.

1847 Hand washing. Hungarian scientist Semmelweis shows that doctors were responsible for transmitting childbed fevers (fatal post-partum infections) in hospitals. An early pioneer of antiseptic procedures, he was called the "saviour of mothers". In the time germ theory was discovered, his observations conflicted with established practice. He was not able to explain how washing reduced the number of deaths, and was mocked for suggesting that medical staff should wash their hands.

1851 Ophthalmoscope. This instrument revolutionises ophthalmology, allowing physicians to examine the inside of the human eye.

1853 Syringe. Charles Gabriel Pravaz and Alexander Wood develop the syringe

1857 Germs. Louis Pasteur identifies germs as clause of disease

1867 Antiseptic. Joseph Lister develops the use of antiseptic surgical methods and publishes Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery. The death rate from infection after surgery decreased significantly.

1870 Germ Theory of Disease. Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur establish the germ theory of disease

1879 Vaccines. Pasteur develops vaccines for cholera, rabies and anthrax.

1890 Anti-toxins. Scientist Emil von Behring discovers antitoxins and develops tetanus and diphtheria vaccines

1893 Heart Surgery. African-American surgeon Daniel Hale Williams performs first successful documented heart surgery on a young black man after a stabbing. He survived and was discharged 51 days later.

1895 X-Rays. Discovered by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen. Doctors in Europe and the US now able to identify gun shots, bone fractures, kidney stones and a new world of diagnosis and treatment to save lives.

1896 First vaccines for typhoid fever and bubonic plague.

1899 Aspirin. German chemist Felix Hoffman successfully created acetylsalicylic acid, used to relieve fever, pain, and inflammation.

1901 Blood Groups. Karl Landsteiner introduces the system to classify blood into A, B, AB, and O groups

1913 Electrocardiograph. Dr. Dudley-White pioneers use of the electrocardiograph – ECG

1922 Insulin first used to treat diabetes

1923-1937 Vaccines developed for diphtheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis, tetanus, yellow fever and typhus.

1928 Penicillin & Antibiotics. Discovered when Alexander Fleming returned home from vacation to find a petri dish on his laboratory bench filled with a type of mould that was thriving, while it was also limiting the growth of bacteria.

1942 Ultrasound. Karl Dussik’s first paper on medical ultrasound

1952 Cardiac pacemaker. Paul Zoll develops the first pacemaker. Jonas Salk develops the first polio vaccine

1953 DNA. Watson and Crick identify the structure of the DNA molecule

1954 Leukemia-fighting drug, developed by Gertrude Elion. Dr Joseph Murray performs the first kidney transplant

1955 Polio vaccine. Jonas Salk develops the first polio vaccine

1964-1974. Vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and chicken-pox.

1973 MRI. Paul Lauterbur produces the first magnetic resonance image (MRI), a major advance in diagnostic imaging.

1974 Heart Transplants. Dr. Christian Bernard performs the first human heart transplant

1975 CAT Scans. Robert S. Ledley invents CAT scan technology.

1978 First test-tube baby is born

1983 HIV. Identified the virus that causes AIDS

1985 Artificial kidney dialysis machine invented by Willem Kolff

  1. 1991. First cancer vaccine. Researchers produce first cancer vaccine, approved by FDA in 2010

1996 Cloning. Dolly the sheep - the first clone

2006 First vaccine to target a cause of cancer.

2019 Anti-virals. With constant advances since the 1940’s, anti-virals work by stopping a viral infection from reproducing. Their development has been significant in controlling the spread of virus outbreaks such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, rabies and COVID.

Today. AI. Current applications of artificial-intelligence in healthcare are broad, from disease diagnosis and discovering new drugs to personalised treatment plans and patient monitoring. There are also applications in diagnosis, such as reviewing mammogram scans to detect signs of early breast cancer.