Joseph Lister (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: Combining skill as a laboratory scientist with great technical ability at surgery, Lister developed and helped to propagate antiseptic surgery.
Joseph Lister was born on April 5, 1827, at Upton Park, just east of London. His parents, Joseph Jackson and Isabella Lister, were Quakers, and the family—there were six children—was unusually close. Lister’s father owned a prosperous wine business and was a scientist in his own right. His development of the achromatic lens made a significant improvement in the microscope, and he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. Paternal example helped Lister develop an interest in and skill at scientific investigation.
After his primary education in Quaker schools, Lister entered University College, London, the only option for non-Anglicans interested in medicine. Unlike most mid-nineteenth century medical students, Lister first studied for an arts degree. Then, following a brief bout with nervous problems, he began the study of medicine, taking his degree in 1852. He won a number of prizes for scholarship, served as House Physician and Surgeon at University Hospital, and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Lister’s decision to be a surgeon was an unlikely one, for with anesthesia being then only recently developed and the problems of infection still ill-understood, surgery was a brutal and little-respected...
(The entire section is 1962 words.)
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Lister, Joseph (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
Joseph Lister (1827912) was an English surgeon. Educated at University College, London, he practiced and taught surgery in Scotland, first in Glasgow and then in Edinburgh, before returning to London in 1877. Lister was concerned about the frequently fatal wound infections that followed surgical operations, and, in search of solutions to this problem, he studied the work of European bacteriologists, notably that of Louis Pasteur. Lister thought that bacteria caused the postoperative infections that were so common, and although the connection between bacteria and infection had not been confirmed beyond doubt at that time, he understood that bacteria could be killed by antiseptics. He came up with the idea of using carbolic acid for this purpose and started the practice of preoperative cleansing of his and his assistants' hands with carbolic acid, as well as spraying carbolic acid liberally in the air in the operating room. The dramatic beneficial results of what amounted to an experimental trial of this regimen were reported in the Lancet in 1867. Lister's methods transformed the practice of surgery from a desperate, life-threatening gamble into a relatively safe procedure for many conditionsncluding the management of childbirth.
Unlike Ignaz Semmelweiss and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who preceded Lister in recognizing the importance of cleanliness in preventing infection during childbirth, Lister offered a method that did not imply that doctors were dirty, and so his message was heeded rather than rejected. Therefore he, more than Semmelweiss or Holmes, deserves much credit for making childbirth safe, as well as for the concept of antiseptic surgical operations. Lister was showered with honors, including elevation to the peerage, the first medical doctor to achieve this distinction. He was buried in Westminster Abbey with the pomp and ceremony reserved for the greatest national heroes.
JOHN M. LAST
(SEE ALSO: Antisepsis and Sterilization; Holmes, Oliver Wendell; Semmelweiss, Ignaz)
Lister, J. (1867). "On a New Method of Treating Compound Fractures, Abscesses, Etc., with Observations on the Conditions of Suppuration." Lancet 1:32629, 35759, 38789, 50709; 2:956.
(1867). "On the Antiseptic Principle in the Practice of Surgery." Lancet 2:35356, 66869.
Lister, Joseph (1827-1912) (World of Microbiology and Immunology)
Joseph Lister contributed to a fundamental revolution in surgery with the introduction of his antiseptic method. At the time Lister was practicing medicine, the mortality rate for certain injuries and surgeries was extremely high due to infection. The mortality rate dropped drastically with the use of an antiseptic method, and when used in conjunction with the anesthetics that were available at the time, surgeons dared to perform more complicated surgical procedures.
Lister was born to a well-known Quaker family at Upton, England. Lister studied medicine at University College, and received his medical degree in 1852. As a student, Lister had the opportunity to be a spectator at the first surgery performed with general anesthesia, performed by Robert Liston (1794847). He also studied histology under William Sharpey during which time, Lister wrote an important paper on inflammation where he discussed the susceptibility to disease of inflamed tissue. Lister was also interested in microscopic anatomy and physiology, perhaps because his father, Joseph Jackson Lister, was a microscopist. At one point, Lister wanted to become a surgeon and left England to study at Edinburgh University with James Syme (1799870), who was well known for his success with performing amputations and joint excisions. Syme, the first surgeon to adopt antisepsis and anesthesia, eventually became Lister's father-in-law.
As a surgeon, Lister was concerned with the high mortality rate of post-amputation patients and the high rate of gangrene after surgery. Applying the knowledge that bacteria caused disease, and drawing from Louis Pasteur's work that proved the existence of airborne microorganisms, Lister concluded that airborne bacteria could cause infection in surgical wounds. Lister read about the affect of carbolic acid used on sewage bacteria in outhouses, cesspools, and stables in the nearby town of Carlisle, and developed an antiseptic system whereby he would spray carbolic acid in the operating room, and use it to sterilize the surgical instruments and his hands. In addition, he applied the acid in and around the wound, and directly on the dressings. Lister first used this method in 1865 while treating a compound fracture of a leg, an injury that often claimed about 60% of patients, and where amputation of a limb was usually the only treatment. The procedure was successful. Lister published his antiseptic method in The Lancet, in 1867. There was one problem: carbolic acid, especially the spray, was harmful to those who came in contact with it. However, Lister found milder antiseptics and later heat-sterilized the surgical instruments. At first, the medical community did not support Lister's theory, but eventually his antiseptic method gained recognition and was adopted as standard procedure for treating wounds and during surgery. Medics used Lister's antiseptic method, which proved to be effective, during the Franco-Prussian War (1870871). In 1877, Lister became Professor of Surgery at King's College, London.
Lister received many honors and awards. A dedicated surgeon, he treated both inflicted and surgical wounds; he experimented with various antiseptics, developed absorbable sutures, and introduced a method of draining wounds. He was the first British surgeon to be elevated to the peerage (became a member of the House of Lords), and upon his death in 1912, his remains were interred in Westminster Abbey. When he died, it was said that Lister had saved more lives than all the wars in history had claimed.
See also Bacteria and bacterial infection; History of microbiology; History of public health; Infection and resistance; Infection control