Découvertes Médicales en France
The world turned its eyes on Paris and France this week. The unimaginable tragedy of the paired terrorist attacks leaves the world struggling to find answers. It also reaffirmed that the world is united in its resolve against terrorism. In Paris on Sunday, 3.7 million people marched in unity and solidarity.
The attention to France reminds me of the many seminal discoveries that it has given to the world of medicine. Here is just a sample of five such discoveries; five ways in which France has moved the world of biomedical science forward.
#1 Ligature of arteries: Ambroise Paré
Paré was a war surgeon who is thought by many to be the first to develop the technique of tying of bleeding vessels. Before Paré, the most common technique to stop bleeding was cauterization. As the story goes, in 1536, during Paré’s first job as a military surgeon, he ran out of the boiling oil usually used in the cauterization process. As they say, “necessity being the mother of invention”, Pare invented the arterial ligature.
Osmosis, the spontaneous net movement of molecules through a partially permeable membrane, was discovered in 1748 by jean-Antoine Daviel. The theory of osmosis has helped understand many biological phenomena, and also underlines a myriad of practical medical applications such as the administration of hypoertonic saline in the treatment of trauma.
#3 The stethoscope
The stethoscope was invented in France by Rene Laennec in 1816 when he was consulted by a young woman experiencing the symptoms of a diseased heart. Rene rolled a piece of paper into a cylinder, applying one end to the woman’s heart region and the other to his ear, discovering, to his delight, that he could hear the heart more clearly than the current method of simply placing the ear over the chest. The first stethoscope was monaural, and consisted of a wooden tube, pictured here.
The process of pasteurization is named, eponymously, after Louis Pasteur. Pasteur’s, “contributions to science, technology, and medicine are nearly without precedent. He pioneered the study of molecular asymmetry; discovered that microorganisms cause fermentation and disease; originated the process of pasteurization; saved the beer, wine and silk industries in France; and developed vaccines against anthrax and rabies.”
Aspirin was discovered by Charles Frédéric Gerhard in 1853. It has developed as likely one of the most popular and ubiquitous remedies. Almost certainly, if it were discovered today, it would not be an “over the counter product”, given its many profound mechanisms of action. Gerhard was the first to neutralize salicylic acid by buffering it with sodium (sodium salicylate) and acetyl chloride, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Gerhardt’s product worked but he had no desire to market it and abandoned his discovery.
And there are many, many more. Just consider: modern dentistry, blood transfusions, the hypodermic needle, cataract surgery, quinine, codeine, the mantoux test, antipsychotics (chlorpromazine), bone marrow transplantation, the insulin pump, heart transplantation and face transplants all had their starts in France…to name a few.
As we turn our eyes towards France this week, we are mindful of the many ways in which les découvertes médicales en France have changed the world.
If you have any thoughts about the world of French medicine, comment on the blog, or better yet, please drop by the Macklem House, my door is always open.