Infographic – Landmark Medical Research Through the Decades

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Landmark Medical Research in History

Throughout history, including in recent years, recurrent subjects of fear and mystery are disease, sickness, disorders, and other ailments. Medical research is, more often than not, a time-sensitive necessity where the stakes include life and death. The results of the research in the medical field can yield countless lives saved over an indefinite timeline.

At Pioneer, we believe that students who will impact the greater scope of society in the future deserve great intellectual engagement and challenges. We have carefully curated personalized, guided, and inspiring systems to teach our scholars to explore, question, and generate their own ideas.

Let’s take a closer look at how curious minds, like those of Pioneer scholars, have changed the course of their societies through medical research discoveries.

Landmark Medical Research V3 Landmark Medical Research

Blood Types

While the first successful blood transfusion was documented in 1818, the procedure was considered very dangerous. Not only was there frequent clotting, which would remain an issue until the introduction of anticoagulants in 1914, but also approximately 50% of transfusions resulted in severe reactions, which sometimes led to death.

In 1900, Karl Landsteiner discovered three human blood groups, A, B, and O. He eventually received a Nobel Prize in Medicine (1930) for this. Students of Landsteiner would later expand on his research to introduce a fourth blood type, AB. This eventually defined which blood types were compatible with transfusions and the modern-day application which sees 85 million successful unit transfers yearly.


Dr. Paul Dudley White spent much of his career traveling and learning about the heart. On a trip to London in the early 1910s, White learned about a new technology called the electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG). He brought that research back to Boston and started running trials using the ECG to understand the actual effects of digitalis, which at the time was the most widely prescribed heart medicine. Through his research, even conducting tests on himself, he discovered adverse effects of the drug.

Later in his career, White was able to connect two similar arrhythmic heart conditions to term a pre-excitation syndrome and discover the origin to be abnormal conduction pathways between heart chambers. The integration of the ECG in new applications by White has paved the way for modern-day medical professionals to detect different heart conditions and it is now used over 300 million times per year globally, building upon White’s research.


With no cure, diabetes was once a death sentence for people in the past. This illness can ravage the body and slowly turn it against itself by causing you to be more susceptible to heart and nerve damage.

For Dr. Elliot Joslin, this wasn’t acceptable. In 1922, he introduced insulin to the public. With this step, more discoveries and innovations have made diabetes a manageable condition from a death sentence. With over 70 years of his life’s work, he created the Joslin Diabetes Center to help the 7.4 million Americans who use one form or another of insulin to keep themselves healthy. Modern diabetic research has been propelled by Joslin’s institutions. Today, over 7 million Americans use one or more forms of insulin to treat diabetes.

Yellow Fever Vaccine 

Throughout the two centuries before the discovery of a vaccine, Yellow Fever was the source of recurrent epidemics leading to mass deaths and being considered fatal to anyone who contracted the disease.

Max Theiler discovered the 17D yellow vaccine in 1937 to help combat this new illness. With his discovery, the vaccine provides effective immunity within ten days for 80-100% of people vaccinated and within 30 days for more than 99% of people vaccinated.


Not long after the discovery of penicillin came the expanded and essential discovery of Streptomycin. While the credit for the discovery has been a topic of controversy, the result is indisputable. 

As a combat to the highly deadly tuberculosis, the rate of cure for streptomycin is 97%, with no relapses. Other antibiotics were created as an expansion of this research–For gentamicin and tetracycline, respectively, the rates of cure are 86% and 88%, the rates of relapse were 6% and 12%, and the rates of failure were 8% and 0.

Kidney Transplant 

The human body is a fantastic machine filled with interconnected organs and muscles. But when one organ starts to fall apart, the rest will be thrown out of balance as well. Renal failure is a severe illness as it slowly poisons the body. 

Jean Hamburger took this challenge and performed the first renal transplant on a 16-year-old boy in Paris, France 1953. This had never been done before and marked the first success in organ transplants. Organ transplants have been so common that every 10 minutes, someone is added to the transplant waiting list, and in 2020, over 30,000 transplants were performed. It shows that bravery to do what has never been done before can lead to progress for the entire medical field.

Human Limb Reattachments

When it comes to healing, our bodies can fix themselves in incredible ways, from regenerating dead skin to mending broken bones. But the one thing that we are unable to do is to heal an entire limb. Once that limb was off, it was once considered a dead end for medical science. 

Dr. Donald Malt and a group of 12 doctors in Massachusetts in 1962, in their combined effort, were able to reattach a boy’s severed arm. This means they connected the complex network of veins and nerves to give him back his working arm. This discovery led to further limb reattachments. Currently, the success rate of a limb being usable again after the operation is 83% from the original zero.   Magnetic Resonance Imaging

As the medical field advances, illnesses are getting harder to find with the conventional eye. We have diseases that affect the brain, which need to be seen accurately at first so the doctors can make a good assessment of the treatment. Opening someone’s head to find out if they have a tumor is costly and ineffective. 

In 1977, Raymond Damadian achieved this by doing the first full-body magnetic resonance imaging scan. It is quite common today that doctors use MRI scans to check brain injury and other maladies that can only be discovered through this method. Over 40 million MRI scans have been done annually in the United States alone.

Robot-Aided Surgery 

Surgery is one of the most delicate types of medical procedures one must perform. The slightest shake of your hand can lead to dangerous consequences in regard to your patient’s life. For some time, surgeons would retire once they felt the slightest tremble on their hands for fear of not being able to do the job. 

Looking into the future, Dr. Yik San Kwoh created PUMA 560 in 1985 to help with this. As the inventor of the first robot interface program to assist in the first robot-aided surgery, all eyes were on him to prove that robots can supplement and simulate human touch. The first surgery was a success, opening the doors for robotics in the medical field. Based on data back in 2013, over 1.75 million robotic procedures were performed in the United States alone across various surgical specialties.


Memories are precious things. They create the tapestry of a human being by filling in the blanks of who you are. This is why Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating thing to happen to anyone. You slowly lose what makes you a person as it eats away at your memories. It is difficult to live with and to see someone you love disappear before you can have a harrowing experience. 

Hachiro Sugimoto started his research on how to bring back those lost people by giving them a fighting chance. His discovery of Donepezil (Aricept) in 1996 was a pivotal moment for people living with Alzheimer’s. This gives them more options to stay with the people they love by slowing down the disease. To date, Approximately 54.1% of people with mild dementia are being treated with symptomatic drugs.

Artificial Heart 

In a lot of iconographies, the human heart has always been depicted as the center of humanity. Over different religions, it has been shown to be where we feel and how we empathize with others. So when your heart starts to give out, it is not only symbolic but also physical as your body follows suit.

In 2001, Abiomeb created an artificial heart to replace a failing one. With this artificial heart, we are able to move forward and progress in heart replacements. Over 15 people were able to get this heart transplant, and this further showed the potential of replacing a human heart later on. It is likely that this research is ongoing, and we will see in the near future applications and research that build upon this initial breakthrough.

A Guided Experience

These medical discoveries were all landmarks of the progress of modern medical science, curing sickness and extending the lives of millions. The effects in this research area are perhaps the most obvious in terms of how they shape and help society. 

They were all the result of passionate researchers striving to make a difference in the world and be the change they wanted to see. 

For those who are ready to pursue their own research at the highest level for high school students, you should learn about Pioneer Academics, the world’s only fully accredited online research institute.  Sign up for a free information session.

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