19 Jan 2012


This year marks the 200th anniversary of the New England Journal of Medicine. Beginning as a small publication distributed on horsebacks around Boston, the Journal has emerged as one of the most influential platforms in modern medicine. As I glanced through the history of the Journal, I was fascinated by the tremendous progress over the years, but was also amazed to find that many ‘routine’ treatments we use nowadays were not developed until rather recently. To give you an idea of my awe, I have listed some examples below:

1810s: Invention of the stethoscope
1820s: Description of polyneuropathy
1830s: Description of rhinoplasty
1840s: First uses of inhaled ether for surgical anesthesia
1850s: Pasteur identified germs as a cause of disease
1860s: Florence Nightingale established a pioneering nursing school
1870s: Development of cholera vaccine
1880s: Koch isolated tuberculosis bacillus
1890s: First X-ray image
1900s: First electrocardiogram
1910s: Discovery of syphilis treatment by arsphenamine
1920s: Discovery of penicillin
1930s: Establishment of the first blood bank
1940s: First chemotherapy for cancer
1950s: First kidney transplantation
1960s: First liver transplantation and discovery of Australian antigen
1970s: Description of the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis
1980s: First description of AIDS
1990s: First hepatitis A vaccine
2000s: Development of imatinib as a targeted therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia

As Bill Gates said, there’s a tendency to overestimate how much things will change in 2 years and underestimate how much change will occur over 10 years. Those who say there won’t be much more development in their fields will continue to eat their hats, I am afraid.

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