Medical history from the year you were born

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December 5, 2020
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Medical history from the year you were born

Medicine is ever-evolving on a daily basis. Keeping track of the changes can be an almost-full-time job. Stacker looked at a number of medical journals and media sources to discover the biggest breakthroughs the year you were born, from 1921 to the current day.

From diseases that have been around for decades, such as diabetes and the flu, to cutting-edge tools like artificial intelligence and 3D printing, explore how medical and scientific professionals continually conduct research and clinical trials to improve the lives of patients. Sometimes advances aren’t immediately adopted, as with the Pap smear—that wasn’t integrated into women’s health care for 16 years after it was invented. But other times the path from laboratory to everyday use is much more abbreviated, like with insulin, which was used to treat diabetes only a year after it was discovered.

Another recurring theme in medical history is the repurposing of medicines that have worked for one disease in the past, to see how they’ll work with another. A number of drugs and vaccines are being re-explored to manage COVID-19. Not all the heroes of medical research come from a traditional background—one was an electric engineer who worked for a major record label. Some were recognized with the highest honors, but others still have little visibility decades after their death. Funding for the research behind the breakthroughs is always a consideration—sometimes it comes from foundations and government entities, but other times via donations from individuals and enterprises.

The dark side of medical history shown here includes unethical behavior by researchers in the past, which explains why some in the Black community aren’t exactly early adopters when it comes to clinical trials and new treatment options.

Advances noted here focus not only on the body, but also the mind. Explore this slideshow to see all the ways that health care has changed over the past century.

1921: Discovery of insulin

Insulin was first discovered in 1921. Before that time, diabetes could only be managed by a very restrictive diet that resulted in other health problems. Today, diabetics who rely on insulin, but have lost their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic, face skyrocketing out-of-pocket prices. Monthly costs can be as much as $1,500.

1922: Insulin first used to treat diabetes

One year after it was discovered, James Collip, a biochemist, purified insulin and administered it to an entire ward of diabetic children, who then woke from comas. Now, some children with Type I diabetes can get help from a diabuddy program, where they’re paired with other diabetic students so that they can help each other throughout the school day.

1923: Pap smear invented

Though the Pap smear was invented in 1923 by Dr. George Papanicolaou, the value of the test to diagnose cervical cancer wasn’t recognized for another 16 years. Mortality rates from the disease dropped by more than 80% in subsequent decades.

1924: Nobel Prize for ECG machine

Physiology professor Willem Einthoven was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1924 for his design and construction of the electrocardiogram machine, which can assess heart issues and measure cardiac disorders. ECGs are being used in hospitals today to determine if there is any cardiac involvement in persons diagnosed with COVID-19.

1925: Discovery of parathyroid hormone

After James Collip discovered the parathyroid hormone in 1925, medical professionals were better able to understand how calcium levels are controlled, and the impact of those levels on bones, as well as muscle and nerve function.


1926: First use of adjuvant in vaccine

Adjuvants are used in vaccines to create better immunity. Alexander Thomas Glenny, an immunologist, was the first to use an adjuvant when creating a diphtheria toxoid. Some COVID-19 vaccines in development use adjuvants.

1927: First intradermal BCG vaccine for TB

Vaccines to combat tuberculosis were initially delivered orally, but starting in 1927, intradermal BCG, or bacillus Calmette-Guerin, vaccines became the standard. BCG vaccines are not always effective in preventing the disease, but do protect against more serious symptoms. However, a November 2020 Cedars-Sinai study showed that those who had received the vaccination were better protected against the coronavirus.

1928: Discovery of penicillin

Penicillin was accidentally discovered when the researcher Sir Alexander Fleming found that mold on a culture plate prevented staphylococci growth. The drug has subsequently been used to treat pneumococcal pneumonia as well as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like syphilis and gonorrhea. But with the country focused on COVID-19, public health facilities have had less capacity this year to treat STDs with penicillin or other antibiotics.

1929: First effective iron lung

The development of an effective “iron lung” in 1929 was life-saving for polio patients. Decades later, use of the machine is rare, due to wide implementation of the polio vaccine to prevent the disease. But older generations remember the impact of the polio virus.

1930: Nobel Prize for discovery of blood types

Biologist Karl Landsteiner received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1930 for his discovery of the human blood types, which was crucial for blood transfusions, as well as forensics. Researchers have found that blood type has a significant impact on COVID-19 susceptibility and severity.


1931: Nobel Prize for discovery of respiratory enzymes

Biochemist Otto Heinrich Warburg received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1931 for his discovery of Warburg’s yellow enzyme, crucial to breathing and oxygenation. Another discovery by the scientist, the “Warburg effect,” is still part of cancer research.

1932: Start of Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis

In 1932, 600 Black men agreed to be part of a study of “bad blood” that lasted 40 years. But there was no informed consent nor treatment, even after a cure for syphilis was discovered 13 years later. Decades later, some Black people still don’t trust the medical profession when it comes to care, especially clinical trials.

1933: Flu virus isolated

Three British scientists who isolated the flu virus in 1933 paved the way for subsequent vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reminding Americans that getting the flu vaccine is especially important in 2020, as health care systems are overloaded due to COVID-19.

1934: Committee on Economic Security created

One of the focal points of the Committee on Economic Security, created in 1934 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was health, including insurance and maternity benefits. National health insurance was considered, but never implemented. Even though the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 later achieved some of those goals, it has faced three Supreme Court challenges as to its constitutionality.

1935: Social Security Act supports health programs

Beyond funds for retirement, the Social Security Act set up grants-in-aid for maternal and child health, plus grants for public health services. Social Security was a significant factor for senior voters in the 2020 election.


1936: Stress recognized as biological condition

Dr. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist, created the concept of “general adaptation syndrome” in his 1936 paper, which looked at the three stages of stress—alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Managing stress has become a full-time job during the current coronavirus pandemic.

1937: The first blood bank

After Dr. Bernard Fantus discovered a way to store blood for future use in transfusions, his “blood bank” paved the way for other communities to engage donors and save lives. This year, blood banks are struggling to maintain adequate supplies, mostly because the blood drives that are usually omnipresent at corporate offices and community centers aren’t happening.

1938: The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act

Before this act, drugs and cosmetics were significantly less regulated, and included ingredients that could lead to blindness, addiction, or worse. New rules required manufacturers to prove product safety and include detailed labels.

1939: First Blue Shield insurance plan

Modern-day insurance was definitely influenced by the development of Blue Shield plans, created by physicians to help people pay for care—via a monthly premium of just $1.70. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association notes that childhood vaccinations are down 26% this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

1940: Anticoagulant isolated from coumarin

Warfarin, a common anticoagulant used to treat heart and circulatory issues, was isolated from coumarin in 1940. Since then, other drugs have been developed in this space.


1941: Rubella implicated in birth defects

An Australian ophthalmologist noted a correlation between mothers who had rubella during their pregnancy and birth defects ranging from deafness and blindness to neurological problems. The CDC now recommends that prospective mothers get the MMR vaccine before they get pregnant. A November 2020 study showed that the vaccine may also protect against COVID-19.

1942: Race-based blood typing debunked

The concept of racial superiority was objectively debunked by immunologist Julian Lewis in his 1942 book “Biology of the Negro.” This helped pave the way for anthropathology, which examines the complex tendency for humankind to have damaging behaviors. 

1943: First dialysis machine

People facing kidney failure have Dr. Willem Johan Kolff to thank for their primary treatment option. The physician pooled resources in short supply during World War II to create the first dialysis machine to take over for the kidneys, to remove toxins from the body. More patients need dialysis in 2020, as many COVID-19 patients experience acute kidney injury.

1944: Disposable catheters

Before disposable catheters were invented in 1944, catheter use was riskier, because they were sterilized and then reused. The disposable catheters also allow for self-catheterization by patients with urinary problems.

1945: First civilians received flu vaccine

Though research into flu vaccines followed the discovery of the flu virus in 1933, it wasn’t until 1945 that a vaccine was available to civilians. Because the flu virus is ever-evolving, research continues, and annual flu shots are necessary to keep up with the changes. Many health departments and community groups across the country offer free flu shots.


1946: First effective chemotherapy drug

Nitrogen mustard was identified as the first effective chemotherapy drug in 1946. It is still used to treat Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and to control symptoms and improve quality of life in lung and breast cancers.

1947: Diphtheria/tetanus vaccine developed

Another vaccine, designed to prevent diphtheria and tetanus, was licensed in 1947. Subsequently, a vaccine was developed that also included protection against pertussis. An October 2020 study out of Spain suggested that the DTaP could also help prevent COVID-19.

1948: Changes in vaccine production

A vaccine that was freeze-dried and vacuum-packed by the Vaccine Institute in Paris opened up new options in vaccine production and distribution. The product resulted in the expansion of vaccination programs in tropical countries.

1949: First bone marrow transplant

When Dr. Leon Jacobson performed the first bone marrow transplant on a mouse in 1948, he created a path for subsequent transplants in humans, which are life-saving for patients with blood disorders including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease. Cells from the donor are delivered to the recipient via an IV line, without surgery.

1950: First permanent intraocular lens for cataracts

Though cataract surgeries have happened for thousands of years, it wasn’t until 1950 that Sir Harold Ridley, an ophthalmologist, permanently implanted an intraocular lens of his design. Today, there are several options in cataract surgery.


1951: HeLa continuous cell line established

Henrietta Lacks died from cancer in 1951, but her legacy lives on, because her cells were “immortal,” and thus have been used in decades of research on AIDS, leukemia, and even COVID-19. But her case has been controversial, in that her cells were used without her informed consent.

1952: Polio vaccine created

Jonas Salk created the first polio vaccine in 1952. The project was funded by thousands of individual donations to the March of Dimes. Even though there is still no cure for the disease, availability of the vaccine has essentially eliminated polio.

1953: REM sleep stage identified

After researchers Nathaniel Kleitman and Eugene Aserinsky identified the sleep stage focused on dreaming—REM, other researchers have gone on to learn how sleep, or lack of it, can contribute to memory, mood, body weight and propensity toward disease. Today, wearable devices can track sleep, including how long one spends in the different stages.

1954: Gertrude Elion patents a leukemia-fighting drug

Gertrude Elion used “rational drug design” to selectively block cell growth and develop vaccines and drugs to treat leukemia, herpes, HIV infection and other conditions. Her accomplishments include a 1954 patent for a leukemia vaccine and a Nobel Prize in 1988.

1955: Placebo effect quantified

Science works wonders—but the brain can, too. Henry Beecher, anesthesiologist and medical ethicist, quantified the placebo effect in 1955, showing that more than a third of patients in his study felt better with the “sugar pill.” Now, double-blind trials are used because of his findings.


1956: Nobel Prize for cardiac catheterization studies

Cardiologists and their patients have benefited from the research conducted by physicians André Frédéric Cournand, Werner Forssmann and Dickinson W. Richards, the trio awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1956 for their work around cardiac catheterization to manage heart problems.

[Pictured: Eight of the nine 1956 Nobel prize-winners at Birger Ekeberg's traditional reception at Stockholm. From left to right: Walter Houser Brattain (U.S.); Dickinson W. Richards (USA); Professor Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood (U.K.); Nikolay Semyonov (USSR); John Barden (U.S.); Andre Cournand (U.S.); William Shockley (U.S.) and Werner Forssmann (Germany).]

1957: Sickle cell disease breakthrough

Biochemist Vernon Ingram determined that one amino acid—glutamic acid—normally found in hemoglobin cells was replaced by a different one—valine—in sickle cell disease. Because of this, the cells become misshapen and clump together, creating serious pain, plus tissue and organ damage. About 8% of Black Americans carry the gene responsible for the disease.

1958: The connection between hormones and cancer

Researchers Elwood Jensen and Eugene Desombre learned that when hormones bind to cell receptor proteins, cancer can result. This finding helped identify targeted treatment options for breast cancer.

[Pictured: Elwood Jensen.]

1959: In vitro fertilization created “test tube baby”

The first “test tube baby” was the result of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) overseen by an American reproductive biologist. Artificial intelligence is now being used to increase the effectiveness of IVF treatments.

1960: Birth control pill approved

Women who wanted to better plan their pregnancies were one step closer to a more effective option after the birth control pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. However, oral contraceptives still weren’t available to married couples until 1965, and those who weren’t married had to wait until 1972. Beyond its birth control benefits, a 2019 study out of the U.K. showed that the pill can help female athletes better handle competing in high heat.


1961: Oral polio vaccine developed

Researcher Albert Sabin created the oral polio vaccine in 1961, giving even easier access to protection from the polio virus. The vaccine could be delivered via drops or sugar cubes. One virologist suggests that it could be effective against COVID-19.

1962: Salk Institute for Biological Studies founded

After developing the first polio vaccine, virologist Jonas Salk founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in 1962 with funding by the March of Dimes. Salk went on to research cancer, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS, including efforts to create a vaccine that would prevent HIV infection from becoming full-blown AIDS.

1963: Insulin pump invented

People battling diabetes had one less worry after Dr. Arnold Kadish invented the insulin pump in 1963, eliminating the need for multiple daily injections. But his pump required patients to wear a backpack to transport it. Ten years later, a more-wearable version was invented.

1964: Rubella vaccine invented

Rubella was rampant in the United States in 1964, but that’s the year that Dr. Stanley Plotkin invented a vaccine to prevent the disease. After working on a number of other vaccines, the 87-year-old is now consulting vaccine companies working on vaccines for the coronavirus.

1965: Medicare and Medicaid introduced

The Social Security Act Amendments of 1965 established Medicare and Medicaid, helping seniors and low-income citizens access health care. President-elect Joe Biden proposes expanding on that access, including potentially dropping the eligibility age for Medicare to 60.


1966: First use of mammogram machine

Before the first mammogram machine was used in 1966 to detect breast cancer, doctors had used x-ray machines. Doctors are stressing that annual mammograms are still a must, and that clinics are developing protocols to make the process safer during the coronavirus pandemic.

1967: First mumps vaccine

Microbiologist Maurice Hilleman developed the first vaccine for mumps, one of more than 40 vaccines for childhood diseases. Merck called him “the father of modern vaccines.”

1968: First telemedicine clinic

Telemedicine started long before today’s Zoom calls. Doctors set up a clinic in 1968 that utilized closed-circuit TVs and specialized cameras to view exams, x-rays, and EKGs. After having to resort to telemedicine during COVID-19, many medical professionals now see that it’s a more-effective option than in-person visits.

1969: First living will

Though many don’t want to think about death, especially their own, the advent of living wills in 1969 has subsequently helped families and doctors determine the best course of action when patients can no longer decide for themselves due to medical problems including dementia or serious accidents. Considering that hospitalizations are at record levels and staff are overextended, it’s even more important during the pandemic to identify what type of care is wanted.

1970: Human oncogene identified

Researchers discovered the first human oncogene—ras—that contributes to tumor development. Scientists are currently conducting clinical trials targeting one oncogene—KRAS—that was previously considered immune to the effects of drugs.


1971: First commercial CT scan

A British electrical engineer created the scanner that he used for the first commercial CT scan in 1971. Godfrey Hounsfield was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1979 for his contributions to the development of computer-assisted tomography, which builds on the capacity of x-rays to show sections within the body. The technology is being used in COVID-19 screening and treatment.

1972: Nobel Prize awarded for research into antibodies

Antibodies are now structured into five isotypes as the result of research by biochemists Gerald Edelman and Rodney Porter, who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1972 for their work. Their findings were a boon to doctors seeking to diagnose disease via the detection of antibodies.

1973: Roe v. Wade decision

The 1973 decision legalized abortion in many instances, but the topic has continued to incite arguments between those focused on women’s health and choices, and those who think differently. Support for ending Roe v. Wade was a major factor in the most recent choice of a Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

1974: WHO expanded immunization program

The World Health Organization (WHO) started a global program to immunize all children against measles, polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and measles. Now 80% of children worldwide are vaccinated. However, 20% of American children had a parent that was leery of vaccines in 2019, which could damage efforts to immunize children in the United States.

1975: Genetic basis for cancer discovered

Geneticist Janet Davison Rowley discovered chromosomal abnormalities are at play in leukemia and lymphoma, and helped develop a targeted therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a disease that was previously fatal.


1976: Bath co-founded institute to prevent blindness

Opthamologist Patricia Era Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976. She was motivated by her study that showed that African Americans experience blindness at twice the rate of white patients.

1977: First pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine

Pneumococcal pneumonia has a mortality rate of 5%–7%, so the 1977 introduction of a vaccine to prevent the disease was a significant moment in medical history. The five-year global PneumoLight campaign recently washed iconic global buildings in blue light as part of efforts to improve awareness of pneumonia, which killed 2.5 million people worldwide in 2019.

1978: First synthetic insulin produced

The development of synthetic insulin in 1978 via biotechnology helped patients who were allergic to insulin from animal sources. Diabetics are benefiting from new insulin delivery techniques, including artificial pancreas systems.

1979: NobeI Prize awarded for CT scan technology

Allan M. Cormack and Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield won the 1979 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for developing computer-assisted tomography, which provided doctors with high-resolution, 3D images—a major improvement over 2D x-rays. The research was funded by The Beatles’ record label EMI, where one of the researchers worked as an electrical engineer.

[Pictured: Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield.]

1980: Smallpox eradicated

The World Health Organization declared in 1980 that smallpox had been eradicated after 21 years of efforts. Vaccination against the disease started in 1796, but was not implemented worldwide, and 30% of people who contracted the disease died.


1981: First AIDS cases

After previously healthy gay men started showing up with unusual infections in 1981, including pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and Kaposi’s sarcoma, the CDC started a task force to follow what ultimately was known as AIDS. Decades later, there is still no cure, though there are effective options to manage the disease. Recently, the Ready, Set, PrEP program extended the preventive drug to those without prescription drug coverage and who otherwise could not afford it.

1982: Jarvik 7 artificial heart

Because of the innovation of inventor and researcher Robert Jarvik, patients who are waiting for a heart transplant now have the option of implantation of an artificial heart in the interim. He invented the Jarvik 7 that was first implanted in 1982. Doctors now have more treatment options for patients facing heart failure, including the left ventricular assist device.

1983: HIV virus identified

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi used her research into the connection between retroviruses and cancers to isolate the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. She devoted her career to battling the disease, founding the International AIDS Society and ultimately winning the 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for her work.

1984: National Organ Transplant Act

Allocation of organs for transplant is managed by the rules of the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. The process is nationally managed and focuses on equitable access and objective evidence.

1985: COBRA passed by Congress

Employees who lose their jobs now typically have a few options for continuing their health care coverage: COBRA and policies available via state marketplaces created via the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act legislated that employers must offer partly subsidized insurance to employees who are laid off. COBRA could become even more crucial if there are changes to the ACA as a result of the current SCOTUS hearings.


1986: Sickle cell anemia breakthrough

Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston was the author of a study that resulted in a national screening program for sickle cell anemia, a red blood cell disorder faced primarily by Black people. Many with the disease manage it via medication or transfusions, but bone marrow transplants can be a cure for younger patients with serious symptoms. Scientists recently learned that a sickle cell anemia test can also identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus within an hour.

1987: First laparoscopic surgery using a robotic system

Surgery has changed dramatically since the implementation of robotics. Procedures are minimally invasive, with smaller incisions and lesser risk. The first of these was a surgical gallbladder removal in 1987. Robotic medicine has become a crucial tool in battling the coronavirus.

1988: Intravascular stent patented

Despite not-so-traditional beginnings, the intravascular stent that Dr. Julio Palmaz crafted from discarded metal was patented in 1988. The discovery was life-saving for patients with clogged arteries, helping more than a million people annually.

1989: First living-donor liver transplant

A child with biliary atresia received the first living-donor liver transplant, that used part of her mother’s liver, in 1989. After this type of transplant, the donor and recipient livers return to full-size in less than a month.

1990: Launch of Human Genome Project

Current genomic research, including the role of genes in causing disease, continues to explore insights resulting from the launch of the Human Genome Project in 1990.


1991: fMRI introduced

Functional magnetic resonance imaging has given medical researchers and providers insights into how the brain works, from decision-making to cognition and reward systems. The tool has helped them learn more about autism, memory and brain cancer. Scientists are currently using artificial intelligence-based algorithms with fMRI data to identify early stages of Alzheimer’s.

1992: Association between excess amyloid beta and Alzheimer’s

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s learned that people with Alzheimer’s produce excess amyloid beta protein or can’t break it down. Recent research indicates that deep sleep can counteract the problem.

1993: National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act

After decades of gender and race disparities in research, this act mandated the inclusion of women and minorities in the National Institutes of Health clinical research on drugs. But there is still work to be done to achieve equity in health care. The FDA recently noted that, “The disparities in health span everything from cancer and diabetes to heart disease, sickle cell disease, and HIV/AIDS.”

1994: Vaccines for Children program launched

Because of the Vaccines for Children program, low-income children have access to vaccinations that would otherwise not be available. Policies to deliver any coronavirus vaccines via this program are still under consideration.

1995: Glucose levels that limit kidney disease identified

One of the risks of diabetes is that hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can damage organs, especially the kidneys. Researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center determined optimal glucose levels to avoid this damage in 1995.


1996: HIPAA passed by Congress

Patient privacy and control over their medical records were improved via the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, aka HIPAA. The act mostly controls the actions of the health care industry, but not the media. This has become a point of contention in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when reporters have legally shared information provided to them about public figures.

1997: First monoclonal antibody drug approved to treat cancer

Rituximab was the first oncology drug based on a monoclonal antibody, a type of molecule that’s produced in the laboratory to attack cancer cells. It was approved by the FDA in 1997.

1998: Lyme vaccine approved

SmithKline Beecham developed a vaccine that attacked Lyme bacteria and was tested as 78% effective in avoiding infection. The vaccine was licensed in 1998, but pulled from the market four years later because of a significant number of reports of serious side effects, and there is still no replacement. However, there are several development projects in the works, including one funded by the Department of Defense.

[Pictured: Lyme disease bacteria.]

1999: Medicines for Malaria founded

Scientists have been exploring ways to combat malaria since the 1800s, and the Medicines for Malaria Venture was created in 1999 to support efforts to create, test and market malaria drugs. Hydroxychloroquine is one medicine utilized to treat and prevent malaria that has been promoted as a treatment for COVID-19, and the FDA authorized emergency use, but a study from the Lancet noted that the prospect of heart problems from the drug outweighed the benefits.

2000: Gates Foundation launched

Post-Microsoft, Bill Gates partnered with his wife to launch the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the health and standard of living for people in developing countries. The foundation has engaged in projects to battle infectious diseases ranging from malaria to tuberculosis and pneumonia, on top of funding vaccine development.


2001: Precision medicine success story

Precision medicine considers individual genetics as part of a treatment plan. Gleevec, approved for the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia in 2001, was a major success story in this realm, with almost 100% hematologic response, which was indicated by the return of the patient’s white blood cell count to a normal range. A precision medicine startup is currently working on an at-home diagnostic test for COVID-19.

2002: World Diabetes Foundation founded

Funding projects that prevent and treat diabetes in developing countries is the mission of the World Diabetes Foundation, founded in 2002. The organization founded 15 projects in the first half of 2020, including two focused on preparedness and interventions during the coronavirus pandemic, which is especially risky for those with diabetes.

2003: Medicare Modernization Act

One of the major impacts of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 was to help seniors covered by Medicare save money on prescriptions. President-elect Joe Biden intends to further reduce prescription prices that have increased by 33% in recent years.

2004: Presidential commitment to electronic health records

Though President George W. Bush set a goal of electronic health records for every American in his 2004 State of the Union speech, many parts of the country still don’t have them. Artificial intelligence technology could help, but at least one health care executive reminds the industry to assess whether it’s the tool that truly fits their needs.

2005: Nutrition study looks at impact of prenatal nutrition

Researchers from the Joslin Diabetes Center discovered that inadequate prenatal nutrition creates permanent problems that might later result in Type 2 diabetes. The findings highlight the importance of healthy food for both mother and child.

[Pictured: Mechanism of normal blood sugar absorption (left) vs. insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetes (right).]


2006: HPV vaccine approved

Gardasil was approved in 2006 to protect against genital warts and cancers caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV). In 2018, the FDA expanded the approved use from age 26 up to age 45. A study planned for 2021 in Alabama is designed to encourage rural adolescents to accept FDA-approved vaccines, including the HPV vaccine, and eventually those created to combat COVID-19.

2007: Genetic basis for rheumatoid arthritis discovered

Researchers in 2007 used gene chip technology to find that genetic variants influence an inflammation gene in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Recent research in 2020 shows that a gene called TYK2 can trigger rheumatoid arthritis and also contribute to worse COVID-19 symptoms. An RA drug is being tested for effectiveness against the coronavirus.

2008: Coronary disease reduced by 25%

The American Heart Association beat its own 10-year goal of reducing heart disease and stroke by 25%, by two years. Prevention and new treatment options contributed equally to the success story. Lifestyle changes are especially effective.

2009: Electronic medical records funded with stimulus bill

Health care reform was a major focus for the Obama administration, and in 2009, it funded electronic medical records via a stimulus bill to give providers easier access to patient records. More recently, many doctors started integrating apps into their practice, so that patients can communicate with them and pull up their own records, in a HIPAA-compliant way.

2010: Affordable Care Act

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed by President Barack Obama, people who had been precluded from health insurance due to preexisting conditions or price had access to health care. Current Supreme Court arguments could gut ACA, but The New York Times reports that the majority of the justices intend to retain the balance of the law.


2011: Melanoma drug almost doubles survival

The FDA approved a new treatment for advanced melanoma in 2011 that almost doubles the chances of survival. The downside is that the drug is only effective for patients with a specific mutation.

2012: Prosthetic controlled by brainpower

Despite paralysis, a woman was able to control a robotic hand with her thoughts in a 2012 study. Researchers used functional magnetic imaging to view brain signals responsible for the movement.

2013: 3D-printed body parts

Researchers can now use both synthetics and bioprinting to print body parts for use in health care. Bionic eyes are becoming a reality, along with elastic bone and functional, 3D-printed ovaries. Scientists were 3D-printing ears in 2013.

2014: DNA screen for HPV

Researchers discovered that a DNA screen for HPV was also effective for screenings for cervical cancer, usually done via Pap smears. The FDA approved the test to screen for both in 2014. Women can now conduct HPV screens in the privacy of their home.

2015: 3D printing used to repair nerve pathways

Regenerating peripheral nerves via 3D-printed scaffolds was the focus of a 2015 study. This technology could replace grafts, which come with a set of side effects.


2016: Flashing light therapy to treat Alzheimer’s

Brain plaque has been shown as a contributing factor in Alzheimer’s, disrupting cell function. A 2016 study of mice showed that flashing LED lights could minimize this type of buildup.

[Pictured: Brain plaque.]

2017: Molecular explanation of blood-brain barrier

Neurobiologists offered a molecular explanation of the blood-brain barrier in 2017, opening the door to ways to bypass the barrier to treat brain diseases. Scientists recently developed a system to deliver drugs across this barrier, and hope to utilize the system in Parkinson’s treatments.

[Pictured: Drugs in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.]

2018: Health care drones

Drone delivery has expanded beyond Amazon Prime. In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration approved a number of projects designed to deliver everything from blood to automated external defibrillators (AEDs), used to shock the heart back to its normal rhythm. Some communities are exploring the possibility of delivering COVID-19 tests and drugs via drone.

2019: Wireless brain sensors

MDLinx noted that the use of wireless brain sensors to monitor and treat neurological diseases exploded in 2019. The sensors work with digital devices to deliver data to patients and doctors. ALS patients have experienced life-changing results from the technology, which could also restore sight to the blind.

2020: Biologics used in orthopedic repair

Patients with orthopedic injuries could experience better healing and less inflammation via the use of biologics in their treatment plans. Surgeons considering using orthobiologics now have access to an online tool launched by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons that provides current, evidence-based information.

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