After five years of neck-down paralysis, Ian Burkhart can use his right arm again. A brain-implanted microchip detects the electrical activity of his thoughts and sends these signals to a sleeve on his forearm that stimulates his muscles. After the success of his surgery and therapy, on April 13 Ohio State University researchers published their results in the journal Nature.
From pouring water into a cup to playing guitar hero, Burkhart’s hand doesn’t just move — it functions.
This could potentially be the biggest health care breakthrough of 2016. Such a breakthrough doesn’t happen overnight, though. It’s the culmination of decades of research across many fields, from biology to computer science and engineering. Without the work of countless scientists throughout the past years, this would not have happened.
To see just how medical science has progressed throughout history, HealthGrove looked at the major health breakthrough the year you were born, specifically focusing on 1945 to 2000. The HealthGrove analysts looked at information on the Nobel Prizes in physiology and medicine as well as the history of vaccine development and general medical advancements over time.
Breakthrough: The influenza vaccine was first licensed in the United States.
Description: During the 20th century, influenza-related mortality greatly declined. In the 1940s, the average seasonal rate of death was 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people. By the 1990s it was 0.56 deaths per 100,000 people.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of the production of mutations by means of X-ray irradiation.
Description: If you’ve ever gotten an X-ray, you’re probably familiar with the lead apron placed over your chest and abdomen before taking the images. The 1946 discovery led to this practice, meant to protect patients from the cellular mutations that X-rays can cause.
Breakthrough: Combination diphtheria and tetanus toxoids vaccine for pediatric use was first licensed in the United States.
Description: The diphtheria and tetanus toxoids vaccine is used to immunize children between the ages of six months old and seven years old against diphtheria and tetanus. Diphtheria is an infection of the nose and throat and tetanus is a bacterial infection that causes painful muscle spasms and can lead to death.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods, such as mosquitos, beetles and lice.
Description: DDT is a synthetic compound whose insecticidal properties were discovered by scientist Paul Hermann Müller. It is effective against many types of bugs and was used in World War II to control the spread of malaria and typhus. However, it was eventually banned due to fears of harmful environmental impacts.
Breakthrough: Diphtheria, tetanus toxoids and pertussis (DTP) vaccine was licensed.
Description: This combination vaccine combats diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). In the U.S., children usually receive five doses of this vaccine between the ages of 2 months and 6 years old.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries relating to the hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects.
Description: The adrenal cortex, the outer region of the adrenal gland, which lies atop the kidneys, produces a variety of hormones. Insufficient production of these hormones can lead to Addison’s disease.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries concerning yellow fever and how to combat it.
Description: Yellow fever is a virus found in tropical areas of South America and Africa. Before scientist Max Theiler’s research, people believed that the cause of yellow fever was a bacterium, not a virus. He and his colleagues later developed a vaccine against the disease.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis.
Description: This antibiotic, discovered by Selman Waksman, is so effective it is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.
Breakthrough: Yellow fever vaccine was first licensed in the United States.
Description: Licensing this vaccine made it more widely available in the U.S., as the licensure process ensures that it has been studied for safety and efficiency of treatment.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in cultures of various types of tissue.
Description: This discovery provided the opportunity for both inactive and live polio vaccines to be produced.
Breakthrough: The first polio vaccine was licensed after an inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk.
Description: After this vaccine was licensed, the mass immunization campaign, March of Dimes, began and effectively contributed to the drop in polio cases. Before the vaccine, about half a million people would die or become paralyzed by the disease each year worldwide. By 1961, only 61 cases of Polio were reported in the United States.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries concerning heart catheterization and pathological changes in the circulatory system.
Description: Cardiac catheterization is the general technique of inserting a catheter into a vessel or chamber of the heart. This technique is used to treat problems such as clogged arteries and to take samples of heart muscle.
Breakthrough: Dr. Willem Kolff and Dr. Tetsuzo Akutzu implant the first artificial heart in a dog.
Description: Later, Dr. Willem Kolff went on to start the Division of Artificial Organs at the University of Utah, where he continued working on the artificial heart. In 1982, the first artificial heart was implanted into a human.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical events.
Description: Genes, the genetic code of DNA, determine the structures of proteins, which can form enzymes. Enzymes are vital to human function because they help complex reactions occur, including metabolism of food.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for their discovery of the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid.
Description: Scientists Arthur Kornberg and Severo Ochoa discovered the enzymes that synthesize RNA and DNA, an integral discovery for the basic understanding of biology.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of acquired immunological tolerance.
Description: Immunological tolerance is the ability of the immune system to accept foreign cells. Scientists Rupert E. Billingham and Peter Medawar first showed this in 1953 when they injected foreign cells into fetal mice and these mice could later accept future tissue grafts from the same foreign cell donor. Scientist Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet added to this with his work on the immunology of viral infections.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries of the physical mechanism of stimulation within the cochlea.
Description: These discoveries helped lead to revolutionary treatments for deafness, such as metal replacements for the three tiny bones of the inner ear.
Breakthrough: First oral polio vaccine created.
Description: Seven years after the initial polio vaccine was licensed, this vaccine helped contribute to the eventual eradication of Polio in the U.S. by 1979.
Breakthrough: First vaccine for measles licensed.
Description: This vaccine contributed to the vaccination program that ultimately eliminated measles from the United States in 2000.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for discoveries concerning the mechanism and regulation of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism.
Description: Scientists Konrad Bloch and Feodor Lynen explained the mechanisms of cholesterol biosynthesis as a result of independent, yet parallel, research. Because cholesterol is an integral component of many cellular structures, these discoveries held widespread significance.
Breakthrough: Bifurcated needle for smallpox vaccine introduced.
Description: The bifurcated needle is the primary method used to administer the smallpox vaccine. The two prongs at the end are designed to hold one dose of the vaccine.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for discoveries concerning hormonal treatment of prostatic cancer.
Description: By discovering the relationships between sex hormones and the function of the prostate gland, scientist Dr. Charles B. Huggins was able to find that oral doses of the female sex hormone estrogen helped slow prostate cancer growth.
Breakthrough: First vaccine for mumps licensed.
Description: By 2005, mumps rates declined by more than 99 percent. Presently, mumps are prevented with the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.
Description: The genes in our DNA serve as instructions for what proteins to make, but before the discoveries of scientists Robert W. Holley, Har Gobind Khorana and Marshall W. Nirenberg, no one really knew how these genes led to the creation of proteins.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.
Description: Scientists Max Delbrück, Alfred D. Hershey and Salvador E. Luria discovered that, in viral infections, both virus and cell undergo changes and effectively become a new cell-virus-complex system. The work of these three men contributed to the foundations of modern molecular biology.
Breakthrough: First vaccine for rubella became available.
Description: Rubella, also known as German measles, is a viral infection. The first rubella vaccine was licensed in 1969 and then was used in the combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in 1971. The rubella vaccine is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for discoveries concerning the mechanisms of the action of hormones.
Description: Hormones are the chemical messengers of the body, released from various locations, such as the brain and the adrenal cortex. Prior to scientist Earl W. Sutherland Jr.’s work, however, it was unclear how hormones functioned.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for discoveries concerning the chemical structure of antibodies.
Description: Antibodies are made by the immune system to disable or remove foreign invaders. For decades, researchers puzzled over how antibodies could be so specific to certain invaders, and it wasn’t until scientists Rodney Porter and Gerald Edelman’s work that this specificity was explained.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns.
Description: Scientists Karl von Frisch, Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen all studied the behaviors of various animals, from bees to birds, to discover patterns of social behavior.
Breakthrough: In Japan, the first vaccine for chickenpox is created.
Description: Chickenpox, a highly contagious viral infection, used to be very common in the United States. Now, two doses of the vaccine are approximately 90 percent effective at preventing the disease.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell.
Description: The fact that viruses can cause tumors has been known since the early 20th century, but the scientific research done by David Baltimore, Renato Dulbecco and Howard Temin furthered our understanding of how viruses do this.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases.
Description: Scientists Baruch Samuel Blumberg and Carleton Gajdusek were co-recipients of the Nobel Prize in 1976 for their work. Blumberg identified the hepatitis B virus and Gajdusek is best known for his work on kuru, the first human prion disease shown to be infectious.
Breakthrough: First vaccine for pneumonia licensed.
Description: The first pneumonia vaccine protected against 14 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria. In 1983, it was expanded to protect against 23 strains.
Breakthrough: First vaccine for meningitis licensed.
Description: Since the creation of the original meningitis vaccine, it has been continuously developed. Currently, the vaccine is between 85 to 100 percent effective for the first two years after receiving it.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the development of computer assisted tomography.
Description: Prior to computer-assisted tomography, or CT scanning, X-rays were the primary use of examining internal organs without surgery. However, X-rays are limited to two dimensions, while CT scans give higher resolution, three-dimensional images.
Breakthrough: The World Health Organization announces smallpox is eradicated.
Description: Smallpox is a highly contagious, serious and potentially fatal infectious disease that causes raised bumps on the face and body of those infected. Worldwide vaccination efforts promoted by the World Health Assembly led to its eventual eradication.
Breakthrough: Vaccine for hepatitis B is first licensed.
Description: Though the first vaccine was created in the mid-1970s, it was only licensed in 1981 after numerous trials showed a 90 percent efficacy rate at preventing hepatitis B infection.
Breakthrough: Dr. William DeVries implants artificial heart into patient Barney Clark.
Description: The patient, Barney Clark, was a dental surgeon with congestive heart failure. After Dr. DeVries implanted the artificial heart, Barney Clark lived 112 days. Though he ultimately died from multiorgan failure, this was a huge advancement for the medical field.
Breakthrough: HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is identified.
Description: Though the HIV virus was first isolated in 1983, numerous varieties have been identified since then. This virus has also been shown to mutate within individuals during infection, which contributes to the difficulty of curing this disease.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for theories concerning the specificity in development and control of the immune system and the discovery of the principle for production of monoclonal antibodies.
Description: The research done by Niels K. Jerne, Georges J.F. Köhler and César Milstein regarding the development and control of the immune system opened up new fields for theoretical and applied biomedical research that allows for more precise diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries concerning the regulation of cholesterol metabolism.
Description: The discoveries concerning how the body regulates cholesterol and the mechanisms regulating hereditary high cholesterol contributed to new principals for treatment and prevention of atherosclerosis.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries of growth factors.
Description: Scientists Stanley Cohen and Rita Levi-Montalcini discovered nerve growth factor (NGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF) respectively, and they showed how these factors regulate the growth and differentiation of cells.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of the genetic principle for generation of antibody diversity.
Description: Antibodies are the primary biological tool in the recognition of viruses, bacteria and other foreign microorganisms. Scientist Susumu Tonegawa’s research showed how the human genome could produce nearly a billion different antibodies with only about 100,000 genes.
Breakthrough: The health ministers of all World Health Organization member states passed a resolution to eradicate polio by the year 2000.
Description: Though polio is not yet globally eradicated, since the resolution was passed in 1988, the number of polio cases worldwide has dropped by 99 percent from 350,000 in 1988 to 74 in 2015.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes.
Description: Oncogenes are genes that can lead to transformation of a normal cell into a tumor cell that can become cancerous. The discoveries of scientists J. Michael Bishop and Harold E. Varmus influenced future knowledge regarding the mechanisms of tumor development.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discoveries concerning organ and cell transplantation in the treatment of human disease.
Description: The discoveries of Joseph E. Murray and E. Donnall Thomas enabled the development of organ and cell transplantation as a method for treating human disease.
Breakthrough: The Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices published recommendations for routine hepatitis B vaccination for all infants in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Description: Because of the difficulty in vaccinating high-risk adults, the ACIP recommended a strategy to eliminate hepatitis B transmission in the U.S. by focusing on childhood vaccination.
Breakthrough: First vaccine for hepatitis A licensed.
Description: In 1994, two years after the first vaccine for hepatitis A was licensed, it became part of the routine childhood immunization schedule in the United States. Though hepatitis B is spread through contact with infectious bodily fluids, hepatitis A is primarily spread via the fecal-oral route.
Breakthrough: The costs of influenza vaccine and its administration became a covered benefit under Medicare Part B.
Description: After the cost-effectiveness of the influenza vaccine was established by the Medicare influenza vaccine demonstration, the vaccine became a covered Medicare benefit in May of 1993. Medicare Part B covers services (like lab tests and doctor’s visits) as well as supplies (such as drugs or wheelchairs).
Breakthrough: The entire Western Hemisphere was certified as “polio-free” by the International Commission for the Certification of Polio Eradication, WHO.
Description: Though the world is not yet entirely polio-free, polio eradication efforts in the 1980s led to the successful elimination of polio from the western hemisphere in 1991, and it was formally announced in 1994.
Breakthrough: Varicella virus vaccine was licensed for the active immunization of persons 12 months of age and older.
Description: Varicella virus causes chickenpox, which is a highly contagious disease that lasts about two to three weeks. The Food and Drug Administration estimated that the vaccine was 70 to 90 percent effective at preventing the disease.
Breakthrough: The sheep, Dolly, became the first mammal cloned from an adult cell.
Description: Dolly the sheep was cloned by scientists Sir Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell and their colleagues at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She lived to be six years old.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of prions, a new biological principle of infection.
Description: Prion diseases are a rare group of progressive neurodegenerative diseases that affects both humans and animals. One such disease is mad cow disease, which is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob in humans.
Breakthrough: First vaccine for Lyme disease created.
Description: This vaccine, given in three doses, was 78 percent effective at preventing lyme disease. However, more than 90 percent of cases were found in only 10 states. In 2002, the creators of the vaccine withdrew it from the market and did not apply for a license.
Breakthrough: Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell.
Description: Proteins are constantly made within our cells and transported out to do essential functions. Biologist Günter Blobel discovered the intrinsic signals and molecular mechanisms by which the proteins are transported.
Breakthrough: First draft of human genome announced.
Description: The Human Genome Project’s assembly of a working draft of the sequence of a human genome in 2000 was an important development because the genome is the genetic blueprint for a human being. It has already helped scientists pinpoint many genes related to diseases.