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The Biggest Lifesaving Discoveries


Do you know the names of the people whose discoveries have saved the most lives? Do you know what they discovered or even how many lives they may have actually saved, including yours? This article looks at the top lifesaving medical discoveries throughout history.

It is estimated that Karl Landsteiner, 1868-1943, has saved 1.094 billion lives through his work on blood transfusions. Landsteiner, an Austrian biologist and physician, distinguished the main blood groups in 1900, group A, B and O, and observed that blood could be transfused between people within the same group. This enabled physicians to transfuse blood without endangering the patient′s life. Before it would be down to chance as to wether or not the body would destroy or accept the transfused blood. He is recognised as the father of transfusion medicine.

Edward Jenner, 1749-1823, was an English scientist and the pioneer of the smallpox vaccine, it is estimated that he has saved 530 million lives through his discoveries. Edward Jenner, the son of the local vicar, was apprenticed to a local surgeon at the age of 14. In 1796, he carried out an experiment on eight-year-old James Phipps, in which he inserted pus taken from a cowpox pustule into an incision on the boy’s arm. Folklore from the countryside spoke of milkmaids who suffered the mild disease of cowpox and never contacted the far more deadly smallpox. Jenner proved that having been inoculated with cowpox Phipps was now immune to smallpox. He ideas were considered too revolutionary at first and it wasn’t until he experimented on several other children, including his own 11-month-old son, that he finally gained enough evidence. He is often called “the father of immunology”.

Abel Wolman, 1982-1989, was an American scientist, and his discoveries are thought to have saved 173 million lives. City water supplies were often riddled with diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. Chlorine is a powerful poison, not only to bacteria but potentially to humans too. Wolman perfected the formula for the chlorination of urban water supplies and his discovery is hailed as possibly the most significant public health advance of the twentieth century.

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