9 Little-Known Contributions to Medicine

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iStock

Before you tune in to National Geographic’s next episode of Origins (Mondays at 9/8 CST) to see how medicine shaped the course of human history, get to know an assortment of under-sung or oft-forgotten scientists, whose discoveries and inventions played important roles in saving individual lives—and arguably, entire civilizations.

1. METRODORA, THE FIRST WOMAN TO WRITE A MEDICAL TEXT

Little is known about Metrodora, an ancient Greek physician who likely lived sometime between the third and fifth centuries CE—except that she’s credited for being the first-known woman to write a medical text. Called On the Diseases and Cures of Women, or On Women’s Diseases, it outlined various topics related to women’s health (including gynecology), and listed various herbal remedies. Other Greek and Roman physicians relied on Metrodora’s work, and it was also referenced in Medieval Europe.

2. JAMES BLUNDELL, THE FIRST MAN TO PERFORM A SUCCESSFUL HUMAN-TO-HUMAN BLOOD TRANSFUSION

In 1818, a British obstetrician named James Blundell performed the first successful human-to-human blood transfusion. One of his patients suffered from postpartum hemorrhage, so Blundell used a syringe to extract several ounces of blood from her husband’s arm, and transferred it to the suffering mother. Blundell would go on to perform more transfusions—half of them effective—between 1825 and 1830, and he also published his findings and developed medical equipment for the procedure.

3. THE MINNESOTA SURGEON WHO INVENTED A LIFE-SAVING SUCTION TUBE

In 1931, Owen Wangensteen, the chief of surgery at the University of Minnesota, invented a suction technique—using what became known as a “Wangensteen tube”—that would eventually save millions of lives. Back then, trauma to the stomach region often resulted in an intestinal blockage that led to eventual—yet nearly certain—death. The surgeon was able to prevent this by threading his tube through a patient’s nose, through the esophagus, and down into the stomach and intestines, where it sucked out gases and fluids. The invention eventually became commonplace, but the surgeon refused to patent his device, as he believed that everyone should benefit from its potential.

4. IBN SINA, THE PERSIAN SCHOLAR WHO PIONEERED THE CLINICAL TRIAL

An 11th-century Persian scholar named Ibn Sina (known in Europe as Avicenna) produced a famous, five-volume medical reference work called Kitab al-Qanun fi al-tibb (Canon of Medicine). The work’s second volume discusses the characteristics of basic drugs—and the second chapter, “On knowledge of the potency of drugs through experimentation,” provides scientific guidelines to follow while assessing their effects. Today, it’s considered to be the world’s earliest known treatise related to clinical trials.

5. NASA, THE SPACE AGENCY WHOSE TECHNOLOGY HELPED MAKE SCANS USEFUL

NASA didn’t invent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or CT scans, but the space agency did help pave the way for their use. During the mid-1960s, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory pioneered digital image processing, as part of their preparation for the Apollo moon landing program. This new technology allowed them to capture more detailed Moon pictures; later, it was applied to the medical field, so doctors could create, enhance, and evaluate images of the human body.

6. THE DOCTORS WHO MAY HAVE DISCOVERED A WAY TO RECYCLE DISCARDED ORGANS

Many people with type 1 diabetes need a new pancreas, but due to a variety of factors, they don’t end up receiving a transplant. One contributing reason is that around 25 percent of donated pancreata (the plural for pancreas) are evaluated, found to be defective, and tossed out. Another is that recipients must take a lifelong course of drugs to prevent their body from rejecting the organ; these medicines can cause pretty bad side effects. However, scientists from one large Southern university’s medical center announced in 2015 that they may have pioneered a way to recycle wasted pancreata and reduce the risk of rejection. By removing the organ’s cells—a process called decellularization—and inserting new cells from the patient into its framework, they may have taken the first steps towards transforming a foreign pancreas into one that’s tailored for someone else’s body.

7. THE DOCTOR WHO DISCOVERED THAT MENTAL ILLNESS HAS A HEREDITARY COMPONENT

Experts once believed that severe mental disorders like schizophrenia were caused by lifestyle factors like bad parenting. But in the 1960s, geneticists realized that the disease actually had a hereditary component. While conducting a study on British twins with schizophrenia, an American researcher noted that identical siblings (who share the same genes) were more likely than fraternal ones (who do not share the same genes) to share a diagnosis.  This helped him realize that the condition is partially inherited—but since only half of the study’s identical twins were both afflicted, the physician realized that environmental factors also play a role. This finding helped transform experts’ understanding of the origin of mental illness.

8. JOSEPH LISTER, THE FATHER OF ANTISEPTIC SURGERY

Surgical patients once regularly died from post-operative infections, as nobody knew that germs were the culprit. This began to change in the 19th century, with a British-born physician named Joseph Lister. While working as a surgeon in Glasgow, Scotland, Lister dressed wounds with bandages soaked in carbolic acid; this method helped reduce infection rates. He also sterilized medical instruments, washed his hands, and sprayed carbolic acid in operating rooms. Lister’s approach caught on, and today, he’s considered to be “the father of modern surgery."

9. AL-RAZI, THE 9TH CENTURY PHYSICIAN WHO DESCRIBED—AND IDENTIFIED—SMALLPOX AND MEASLES

The first physician to ever describe—and differentiate—the symptoms of smallpox and measles was a ninth-century man named Muhammad Ibn Zakariyya al-Razi, more commonly known as al-Razi. His 14-chapter book Kitab al-Jadari wa 'l-Hasba (The Book on Smallpox and Measles) outlines the symptoms and causes of the two diseases, why certain people are prone to them, the period during which they are the most common, and how to treat them.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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Starbucks Is Giving Free Coffee to Frontline COVID-19 Workers All Month Long

Starbucks is saying thank you in typical Starbucks fashion.
Starbucks is saying thank you in typical Starbucks fashion.
Starbucks

Starbucks is showing its support for those individuals on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 this holiday season by giving the gift of free coffee—all month long.

From now through December 31, any health care worker or other frontline worker can get a tall hot or iced coffee whenever they stop by Starbucks. The offer extends to just about anybody in a medical profession, including doctors, nurses, public health administrators, pharmacists, paramedics, dentists and dental hygienists, therapists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and other mental health professionals. Non-medical hospital personnel—including members of the janitorial, housekeeping, and security staffs—also qualify, as do emergency dispatchers, firefighters, police officers, and active-duty members of the military.

To address the pandemic’s emotional toll on essential workers, Starbucks has also contributed $100,000 to the National Alliance on Mental Illness to be used for virtual mental health services; and the company will give out 50,000 Starbucks care packages and gift cards to frontline workers across the country. While the main goal is to show gratitude to those keeping the nation afloat during an extremely difficult time, Starbucks is also hoping their initiative can be an example for other companies with resources to spare.

“Hopefully other brands will join us in thinking about how [they can] use their platform to again show support,” Virginia Tenpenny, Starbucks's vice president of global social impact, told USA TODAY. “Little deposits in morale can really go a long way, just so that they feel the support from our community.”

It’s not the first time Starbucks has spearheaded a long-term coffee giveaway this year; between March and May, the company handed out more than 2 million free cups of joe to professionals helping the country through the coronavirus pandemic. The Starbucks Foundation has also donated several million dollars to relief funds, food banks, and local organizations.

[h/t USA Today]