Insulin: 7 Things You Didn’t Know

1. It wasn't called insulin During their early dog experiments on pancreatic extracts in August 1921, Frederick Banting and Charles Best named the yet unknown substance "isletin". The name was a reference to the Islets of Langerhans - cells in the pancreas that were suspected to produce a substance that regulated blood sugar levels. Later... Continue Reading →

First Blood: Origins of Blood Transfusion

Crowdsourcing Blood Donors in the 19th Century The transfusion of human blood started out as a very personal affair. Blood donors, usually the patient’s relatives or sometimes even their doctors, relinquished blood at the bedside. The blood was then transfused directly from one person to another using a simple syringe or special contraptions. Early 19th... Continue Reading →

Hair Salons and the First Pacemaker

In 2012  I was completing a continuing medical education course and came across the story of the first implantable pacemaker. It happened in 1958 at the Karolinska hospital in Stockholm, Sweden. This was at the tail end of a decade that is considered the golden age of cardiothoracic surgery when pioneer after pioneer introduced new... Continue Reading →

Forty-Day Quarantine: Keeping Plagues at Bay

The word "quarantine," comes from the Italian phrase quarantina giorni, 'forty days.' It referred to the fourteenth century regulation in Venice that required ships arriving from plague-infested countries to keep their distance from the port for forty days. As the Black Death claimed about fifteen million lives in Europe, the Venetian concern was quite well... Continue Reading →

What Happens When a Genius Pees in the Snow?

Rune Elmquist is not a household name. He was one of many Swedish inventors who had gifted the world with such wondrous creations like the zipper (Gideon Sundback, 1917), the three-point seatbelt (Nils Bohlin, 1959), the carton tetra-pak (Erik Wallenberg and Ruben Rausing, 1946), and even the adjustable monkey wrench (Johann Petter Johansson, 1891). Sweden’s... Continue Reading →

The Terrifying Exploding Head Syndrome

The medical condition provocatively called Exploding Head Syndrome or EHS brings back the disturbingly graphic images of the 1981 sci-fi horror flick Scanners where the main character blew up people’s heads with the power of telekinesis. Fortunately, as ominous as Exploding Head Syndrome sounds, no skulls have actually exploded, and the condition is reassuringly non-life... Continue Reading →

The Water of Life: Medicinal Booze

Uisge Beatha     It was called the ‘the water of life,’ uisge beatha, an ancient tonic distilled from barley, a potent potion for all ailments, pox to palsy, colic to colds. Irish monks discovered the process of fermenting the grain in the 12th century, and for hundreds of years people swore by the  medicinal powers... Continue Reading →

How Dr. Alzheimer Discovered a Disease in an Asylum

Carl didn't know what was happening to his wife.  The German railway clerk from Morfelder Landstasse and his wife Auguste had been happily married for twenty-eight years. The marriage produced one daughter, Thekla, and their marriage had always being harmonious; that is, until one Spring when Auguste suddenly exhibited signs of jealousy. Auguste accused Carl... Continue Reading →

It Began in Nzara: The First Ebola

It began in Nzara, a town inhabited by 20,000 people living in thatch-roofed houses within the dense woods in southern Sudan. Roughly five percent of the population worked in a large cotton factory that was owned by an even larger agricultural company. The factory kept detailed records of its employees' work hours, perhaps to keep close tabs on absenteeism. Fortunately, it also helped investigators track the pattern of a deadly virus transmission.

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