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Top 10 medical heroes

With our 10th issue of Insight, we thought it would be a good idea to provide a little insight into the people at Team. We love to find solutions to medical challenges but who inspires us? Whose developments have made the biggest impact on medicine and people? Here are the results of our (less than scientific) internal poll:

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These ten (well, eleven) influential people have helped to inspire millions of people to further health and medicine around the world. But for Team there are some more personal reasons behind who inspires us. Ben Wicks is first up in explaining who inspires him.

“Dad, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could travel back in time and see what life was like here 200 years ago?”

My daughter loves history – she’s studying the history of medicine so it’s a frequent topic of conversation. One such recent conversation got us onto the subject of whether we’d be scared going back in time to the 1800s. On reflection, we both agreed that the absence of healthcare would be a genuine worry. She was worried about surgical procedures being done without general anaesthetic, while I was adamant that I’d be taking some antibiotics with me on any journey back through time.

So when I was asked who I considered to be the most important scientists in medicine I immediately focused on anaesthesiology and microbiology.

This led me first to John Snow, considered the founding father of epidemiology because he realised cholera was spread by contaminated water supplies in London, and not by bad smells, which was considered the most likely culprit by some at the time. But as well as studying epidemiology, John Snow was also a pioneer in the understanding of respiration and delivering anaesthetics.

Despite a terrible lack of scientific rigour in medicine at the time, Snow looked at the facts, did firsthand research, read about emerging science and tried to understand biology and physiology. Few people realise that he did some outstanding work on improving the resuscitation and care of new-born babies which saved countless lives. Next on my list is Joseph Lister who continued to develop the understanding that microorganisms caused infectious disease. Lister pioneered the use of antiseptics in surgery and wound care – earning him the reputation as the “Father of modern surgery”.

Lister was another good scientist who read up on Louis Pasteur’s work (who really should be in anyone’s Top 10) and used evidence-based medicine to guide his work.

I love living in an age where we understand so much about science and I feel privileged to play even a very small part in trying to improve the health and wellbeing of mankind. But if I am ever offered the chance to travel back in time I will definitely take some antiseptic wipes with me.

Lastly, I’ve gone for the man who first discovered penicillin – Alexander Fleming. It wasn’t the first antibiotic ever discovered (some chemical antibiotics has been developed in the 1920s) but it did pave the way for modern antibiotics which, in my opinion, have had the greatest and most tangibly astonishing impact on healthcare. Estimates vary but it’s widely accepted that antibiotics have added >15 years to life expectancy, probably twice that which a cure for all cancers would add. We take antibiotics for granted but they are incredibly important. Fleming’s patient, and initially overlooked, scientific endeavours have helped extend and protect the lives of billions of people.

I’m grateful for the work of each of these individuals and the countless others – often unrecognised – who have developed our amazing understanding of human health and disease. I love living in an age where we understand so much about science and I feel privileged to play even a very small part in trying to improve the health and wellbeing of mankind. But if I am ever offered the chance to travel back in time I will definitely take some antiseptic wipes with me.

top ten medical heroes

Andy Fry, one of Team’s founders, shares his reasons for his choice of a medical hero. As someone who has spent years helping to make injecting insulin a better experience, Andy’s choice was simple – the people who discovered insulin.

1891 – 1941, Frederick Grant Banting, KBE MC FRS FRSC

The discovery of insulin at Toronto General Hospital by Frederick Banting counts as one of the greatest medical achievements of the 20th century. After a few years of research and testing, on January 23, 1922, a 14 year old boy, Leonard Thompson, terminally ill from type 1 diabetes, was given an injection of insulin extracted and refined from a beef pancreas. Literally overnight, the boy began to recover from what had been an inevitable, painful and distressing death.

The 1923 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Banting, then aged 32. He shared the honour with Professor JJR Macleod, who provided lab facilities for the insulin research. Banting shared his half of the prize with Charles Best, the trainee doctor who assisted Banting throughout the research. The WHO estimate some 422 million people were suffering from diabetes in 2014. Although insulin is now produced by combinatorial chemistry, no longer from animal organs, it remains the principal drug used in the management of what was, until 94 years ago, a dreaded and fatal disease.

As one commentator put it; ‘With insulin, the stone was rolled away, and diabetes became a matter of life, not death.’ Fred Banting was the one who rolled away the stone.

What is amazing is how many lives all of these people have made better. A simple thought – make things better – and one we try to achieve at Team.

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