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Ten Medical Innovations of World War I

The Battle of the Somme began 100 years ago today, July 1, 1916. The global toll was over a million dead and wounded in the battle that lasted for months. The number of wounded in World War I far exceeded anything the western world had seen before. As the war dragged on for years, medical personnel feverishly developed ways to evacuate the wounded, save lives, and alleviate suffering from the new and terrifying weapons that were used. Many of those innovations led to modern medicine and methods we take for granted today. A new exhibition at the Science Museum in London called Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care highlights some of those innovations, like blood transfusions.

Doctors had been experimenting with blood transfusion as early as Sir Christopher Wren – now better known for his architecture – who demonstrated the procedure on animals in 1665. In the 20th Century, medical professionals understood blood types and began to perform successful transfusions in humans. The massive amounts of blood loss seen in the casualties of WWI, however, required more dependable and faster techniques.

The invention of the apparatus shown here marks a watershed. Before the war, most blood transfusions required a direct person-to-person process, which was cumbersome and high-risk – not to mention difficult in the high-pressure situation of the front. The first major breakthrough, developed by Canadian Lawrence Bruce Robertson at the western front in 1917, allowed instead for blood to be removed with one needle, pumped through a bottle, and then out through another needle. But it was another Robertson, British-born American Oswald Hope Robertson, who pioneered the system pictured, which allowed not only for indirect transfusion, but for blood to be stored safely (on ice) for up to 26 days.

Other medical advances that came out of World War I were oxygen masks, anesthesia delivery, prosthetic limbs, the portable fluoroscope, and more. Read about ten medical innovations of World War I at BBC Future. -via Digg

(Image credit: Science Museum/SSPL)


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I've had too many dealings with doctors in the past year, but I am extremely grateful for the new imaging technologies. When a CT scan was ordered, I had an interesting thought: You never hear the words "exploratory surgery" anymore. I cannot be more grateful.
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My maternal grandfather was a combat surgeon in WWI, sort of the MASH of his time. He was an amateur photographer and took pictures that I saw years later. Some of the scenes with dead horses were part of the horror of that war. Can't imagine his job with no penicillin or other "modern" medical advances. Back in civilian life he became the head psychiatrist at a mental institution in NY state. I remember going to work with him a few times. Talk about creepy.
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