Science is pretty miraculous when you stop and think about it.
As far away as a universal cancer vaccine or a cure for diabetes may seem today, remember that science has made impressive advances in the past half century that would have seemed like fiction to your grandparents. Here is a look at the top developments in medicine by decade.
1960s: Measles Vaccine
Before the measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an estimated 400 to 500 people died of the disease each year, and another 3 million to 4 million people in the United States got the measles each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Now, the disease is considered to be eliminated from the country, with anywhere from 37 people in 2004 to a high of 667 people in 2014 contracting the measles in the United States (largely due to unvaccinated travelers).
1970s: First “Test Tube” Baby
On July 25, 1978, the world’s first in vitro baby was born in the United Kingdom. Prior to this, scientists had been able to fertilize an egg with a sperm in the lab but had not been able to achieve implantation in a woman. U.S. researchers replicated this feat in 1981. In 2013, in vitro fertilization (IVF) accounted for more than 1.5 percent of all babies born in the United States, or a total of 63,286 births, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. In addition, undergoing a modified natural cycle IVF helps bring the cost down, allowing more women and couples to afford it.
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1980s: First Artificial Heart
Barney Clark received the first artificial heart Dec. 2, 1982, and lived for 112 days after. Over the next 10 years, 236 artificial hearts were implanted. Today, they are primarily used as a way to gain more time while a patient waits for a donor heart.
1990s: Medical Lasers
Today, lasers are used for everything from hair removal to eliminating potentially cancerous tissue. One of their many benefits is that they instantly cauterize tissue so there’s minimal bleeding — or sometimes, none. The first excimer laser was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1995.
2000s: Genome Mapping
The Humane Genome Project was successfully completed April 14, 2003, with much fanfare. The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) likens it to “having all the pages of a manual needed to make the human body.” While researchers are still working on how to understand it all, and new drugs and treatments based off of the project are still a few years away, genome mapping holds much promise for the future of personalized preventative medicine.
2010s: Restoring Sight to the Blind
In 2015, Terry Byland became the first person in the world to have two retinal prostheses – one in each eye. His ability to regain some sight signals hope for people going blind from Retinitis pigmentosa. The reason: the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis system, the first FDA-approved implanted device to re-establish some sight in blind patients, giving them the ability to perceive images and movement. Mark Humayun, MD, PhD, co-inventor of the device, who holds joint appointments at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama for his groundbreaking contributions to society. Humayun is an expert in vitreoretinal diseases at the USC Roski Eye Institute.
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