Late 20th Century Medical Breakthroughs

Late 20th Century Medical Breakthroughs That Changed Our Lives

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Due to the current crisis, there has probably been a greater focus on medical breakthroughs than we have ever seen before. Scientific advances have always been headline news, but the development of 24-hour news and social media growth means that every small step is publicized and discussed in incredible depth.

There were, however, medical breakthroughs before the invention or widespread use of the internet, each of which was every bit as important as the ones we see today. So, it is certainly worth revisiting them now and marveling at the incredible changes they made to modern life.

Medical lasers

Starting in the last decade of the 20th Century, the FDA approved the first medical laser in 1995. While the idea may have seemed like science fiction at the time, medical lasers are so revolutionary because they instantly cauterize tissue, which minimizes bleeding.

They are now used for many forms of surgery, but most usually for eye surgery (LASIK and LASEK procedures), cosmetic surgery (tattoo removal among many other procedures), and tumor removal. They are now even used for whitening teeth.

The artificial heart 

Moving back a little further, the first artificial heart was used in a medical procedure. While these are by no means a long term solution (the first recipient lived for a further 122 days), they are mainly used as a stopgap solution for those waiting for a donor heart but are running out of time.

The extra time that this bridge to transplant has given many patients has saved many lives and increased the quality of life of the patient while on the transplant list.

In vitro fertilization

More colloquially known as the ‘test-tube baby,’ the first use of IVF was the major breakthrough of the late 1970s. Now a mainstream treatment for infertility, the first baby born was justifiably front-page news. Using in vitro fertilization, IVF for short, first happened in the UK, then was successfully replicated in the US in 1981.

Since then, over 8 million children have been born to couples who would have otherwise remained childless. This procedure’s widespread use has made the treatment more affordable for a heartbreaking problem that could affect as many as 1 in 6 couples.

Human limb reattachment

Sounding more like something out of a horror story, having a severed limb reattached has increased the quality of life for many thousands who have undergone this operation, also known as replantation.  

The first operation of this type was carried out in 1962 when an arm was almost completely severed and left ‘hanging by the skin.’ Nerves, blood vessels, muscles, and tendons were sewn back together, and the patient made an almost complete recovery.

Unlike the rest of these revolutionary procedures, the number of this type of operation has not increased over the decades. This is mostly due to improved health and safety policies, which have led to far fewer accidental amputations.