When Did Modern Medicine Begin?
Modern medicine has its roots in the 1600s. During the early seventeenth century the English doctor William Harvey (1578–1657) made important advances in understanding the workings of the human body. After studying medicine with the Italian surgeon Fabricius (1537–1619; also known as Fabrici), Harvey conducted experiments to determine the flow of blood. By dissecting (cutting apart piece by piece to study) cadavers (dead bodies used for scientific study), Harvey learned that the heart pumps blood through the arteries to all parts of the body and that the blood returns through the veins to the heart. In 1628, he published his findings in An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals.
Another pivotal development in medicine came when Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), a Dutch naturalist, developed microscopes so he could study objects invisible to the unaided eye. Although he accurately described red blood cells, striated muscle fibers, and bacteria, the connection between bacteria and disease was not made until many years later. During the mid-1800s French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) proposed that germs cause diseases. He and German doctor Robert Koch (1834–1910) confirmed the theory. Koch was also able to determine that certain bacteria cause certain diseases, such as anthrax (the first to be isolated), tuberculosis, and cholera. By the turn of the twentieth century, researchers had discovered the bacterial causes for such diseases as the plague, diphtheria, dysentery, gonorrhea, leprosy, malaria, pneumonia, and tetanus.
Further Information: Curtis, Robert H. Great Lives: Medicine. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993; Medical Technology: Inventing the Instruments. Minneapolis, Minn.: Oliver Press, 1997; Yount, Lisa. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek: First to See Microscopic Life. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow, 1996; Yount, Lisa. William Harvey: Discoverer of How Blood Circulates. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow, 1994.