Top 7 Accidental Discoveries That Shaped Modern Medicine
Historic medical breakthroughs are usually backed up by years of research and tests done by teams of dedicated professionals. Then there are times when they just… happen. For this list, we’re gonna count down the groundbreaking medical game-changers that may or may not have started with an “oops”.
7. Warfarin: The Blood Thinner to Die For (If You’re a Cow)
Imagine being a farmer in the 1930’s with an entire cattle hemorrhaging violently and suddenly. You’d be right in the shoes of Ed Carlson, a Wisconsin man who found himself in the middle of a bovine corpse pile. Panicking like crazy, he paid his biochemist pal, Karl Paul Link, a visit. He felt his feed, made up of sweet clover hay that had gone rancid, is to blame. Link confirmed his suspicion and discovered an anticoagulant in this smelly mix of cow chow. It was then commercially labelled ‘warfarin’ and was initially sold as rat poison. Link later isolated a compound that would then become a blood thinner. Warfarin is still widely used today to treat patients with blood clots.
It also made rats bleed to death, btw
6. Antabuse: Schoolmates Treat Alcohol Abuse
Eric Jacobsen and Jens Hald, students of the Royal Danish School of Pharmacy, were trying to prove that disulfiram can cure parasitic stomach infections. As any good pharmacist would do, they took the compound themselves to test its effects. After having just one drink at a friend’s party, they both instantly got sick. After hypotheses between vomit sessions, they concluded that disulfiram doesn’t mix well with alcohol. Apparently, a compound within disulfiram called antabuse prevents the liver from processing alcohol. Their discovery is now used to curb alcoholics from drinking.
“Bro, let’s never drink again.”
5. Quinine: Why Drinking Suspicious Liquid May Not Be So Bad After All
Legend has it that this malaria remedy was discovered by an unknown South American man in the 1600s. Feverish and desperately lost in the jungle, the mysterious man drank from a stagnant pool of water he had found under a quina-quina tree. The extremely bitter taste of the water made him fear that he had just poisoned himself. It was a while later when he realized that his fever had begun to clear. He soon retold his story, reaching the Jesuits who popularized the medical use of the quina-quina bark in Europe by 1640.
Apparently, the bitterness can distract you from the pains of malaria
4. Nitrous Oxide: More Than the World’s Best Party Trick
If you’re a rich British person living in early 1800s, chances are you’ve attended one of those infamous laughing gas parties. It wasn’t until 1863 that nitrous oxide was used beyond a room of people getting a serious case of the giggles. Joseph Priestly, a theologian, clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, grammarian, multi-subject educator, political theorist, and (possible) superhuman, elevated this party trick by adding iron fillings. This produced a numbing, tingling sensation when inhaled. His experiment later prompted the use of nitrous oxide as an anesthesia, producing numerous viral post-dental surgery Youtube videos along the way. Thanks, Joseph Priestly!
The squad when Mozart drops the beat
3. Muscle Function: Brought to You by Frogs Dancing From Beyond the Grave
Luigi Galvani had a very specific hobby: frog dissecting. While he was doing what frog dissectors always do (trying to prove that its balls were located in its legs), he forgot that the metal table he was using had been previously used for static electricity experiments. Of course, when his electrically-charged instruments touched the dead frog’s sciatic nerve, its legs went from limp noodles to straight up #shookt. It was this twitching that proved it was electricity (not air or water) that made muscles move. All thanks to a frog autopsy-enthusiast with a memory problem.
A normal scene for the Galvani’s dining table
2. Insulin: From the Struggles of a Peeing Diabetic Dog
Insulin came from a pretty dark experiment that cost a dog its pancreas. Oscar Minkowski and Josef von Mering decided to take out a healthy dog’s pancreas, betting whether or not the pancreas serves an actual purpose. They’re probably good friends with Mr. Galvani and his frog cadavers. Anyway, they began to notice that flies were swarming around the dog’s urine. They later figured out that without the dog’s pancreas, they basically made its urine more sugar-y than usual. This led to their discovery of insulin which is instrumental in slowing down type 1 diabetes’ killing spree.
Barky had no idea what was coming to him.
1. Heart Surgery: Dyeing the Right Way
In 1958, F. Mason Sones was performing a heart surgery for a patient with a rheumatic heart disease. He was about to inject some contrast dye into the aortic valve when the catheter slipped. Dyes are used to provide a clear contrast of parts of the heart on x-rays but only if they’re delivered to the right heart parts. Dr. Sones wasn’t able to achieve this because, you know, the catheter slipped. The patient flat-lined. Like any sane person would do, Dr. Sones asked his patient (who was for some reason still conscious) to cough. The patient obeyed and his heart began to beat again. This Lazarus-like scenario produced a set of x-rays that proved dye can be injected to THAT crucial part, revolutionizing the field of heart surgery.
“Doc, is my line supposed to be that straight? Doc?”
Featured Photo from Luigi Galvani’s De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari