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Medical Scientists


Medical research has been conducted for thousands of years. The Greek physician Hippocrates was the first person to declare that disease was caused by natural, not supernatural, phenomena. Another Greek physician, Galen of Pergamum, studied in Rome during the second century A.D. He worked as physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius and lectured to physicians on dissections and experimental physiology. Galen conducted anatomical studies of animals, particularly apes, because the dissection of humans was illegal. He is credited with the discoveries of blood transport by arteries, the pumping mechanism of the heart, and the function of the kidneys.

In the past century, medical scientists have made many major scientific breakthroughs. For example, penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. This powerful drug, which fights infection, has saved the lives of millions of people. Vaccines were developed to fight deadly diseases and are credited for eradicating diseases such as smallpox. The most heralded of the vaccines was the one developed by Jonas Salk for poliomyelitis (polio). Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine soon after, which also immunized against polio. Polio had infected hundreds of thousands of people in the United States between 1940 and 1959 and had killed 26,635 people, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Initial use of the vaccination began in 1954. In 1960, thanks to the vaccination, only 3,190 Americans developed the disease.

Other major breakthroughs by medical scientists include the discovery of the structure of DNA, the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms (1953); the development of organ transplantation procedures (1960s); the first baby born as a result of in vitro fertilization (1978); the development of artificial skin (1981); the first mammal cloned from an adult cell (1996); the mapping of the human genome (2003); and the development of genetic techniques that allow scientists to perform gene therapy, tissue engineering, and other genetic techniques to improve human life (1980s–present).