Well, some of the best medical breakthroughs that came from New England. In a region as rich in medical and scientific history as New England, it’s tough put a limit on the number of monumental breakthroughs, so when we set out to include a few as gifts in our special 80th Anniversary Issue (“80 Gifts New England Gave […]
By Yankee Magazine
Sep 28 2015
Clinic technician Leone Coppola, at right, administers a lung-function test, April 1952; the resident volunteer is Framingham
attorney Walter Sullivan.
Well, some of the best medical breakthroughs that came from New England.
In a region as rich in medical and scientific history as New England, it’s tough put a limit on the number of monumental breakthroughs, so when we set out to include a few as gifts in our special 80th Anniversary Issue (“80 Gifts New England Gave to America,” September/October 2015), we tried to include ones that have had some of the largest lasting influences. Still, we wished we could have included them all.
What did we miss?
The Framingham Heart Study
One day in 1948 a woman named Mary H. Sullivan became the very first Framingham Heart Study participant. More than 11,000 participants later, the people of Framingham, Massachusetts, 21 miles down the Mass. Turnpike from Boston, still troop along to the clinic to be studied. In all these years, the Heart Study has never treated anyone, and yet these participants have changed the way we live and die, for which we, the people of the United States, owe them, the people of Framingham, a great debt. —“Thank You With All Our Hearts,” by John Fleischman, July 1998
READ MOREThe Framingham Heart Study | New England’s Gifts
Dr. John Collins Warren, the first dean of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Massachusetts General Hospital, and William T. G. Morton, a dentist from Charlton, Massachusetts, performed the first public surgery to use inhaled ether as an anesthetic on October 16, 1846. The patient, Edward Gilbert Abbot, though semi-conscious, felt no pain as doctors removed a tumor from his jaw at Massachusetts General Hospital. Morton dedicated much of his life’s work afterward to researching anesthetics.
The Iron Lung
As late as the 1950s, polio struck fear into the masses; some affected patients even died from an inability to breathe. Phillip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw of Harvard University developed the iron lung, a device to help paralyzed patients breathe until they could recover the ability to do so on their own. The machine was first used at Boston Children’s Hospital in 1928.
Dr. Sidney Farber of Boston Children’s Hospital was the first to successfully treat acute leukemia in 1947, ushering in the age of chemotherapy research and use. Inspired by a treatment for premature blood cells in the bone marrow of World War II soldiers, he tried a new approach to treatment on 16 young patients; he saw remission in 10. Farber went on to found what is now the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, home of the Jimmy Fund.
Two Boston scientists, John Rock and Gregory Pincus, teamed up in 1952 to study hormonal patterns and infertility. They dubbed their first experiment—a test on 50 Boston-area women with 100 percent success—a “fertility study” because the idea of an oral contraceptive was so controversial. Thus, the first version of “the Pill” was born.
A 12-year-old boy who tried to hop a freight train in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1962 found himself a candidate for the first-ever attempted limb reattachment when his leap of faith tore off his right arm. Dr. Ronald Malt of Massachusetts General Hospital performed thesurgery—and Everett “Red” Knowles regained complete feeling and use of his right arm within two years.
Compiled by Bethany Bourgeault.