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Joseph Lister is the surgeon who introduced new principles of cleanliness which transformed surgical practice in the late 1800s. We take it for granted that a surgeon will guard a patient's safety by using aseptic methods. But this was not always the case, and until Lister introduced sterile surgery, a patient could undergo a procedure successfully only to die from a postoperative infection known as ‘ward fever’.

Born in Essex, Lister was interested in surgery from an early stage - he was present at the first surgical procedure carried out under anaesthetic in 1846. Lister continued his studies in London and passed his examinations, becoming a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1852. He was recommended to visit Professor of Clinical Surgery James Syme (1799-1870) in Edinburgh and became his dresser, then house surgeon and then his son-in-law.

Lister moved to Glasgow in 1860 and became a Professor of Surgery. He read Pasteur’s work on microorganisms and decided to experiment with using one of Pasteur's proposed techniques, that of exposing the wound to chemicals. He chose dressings soaked with carbolic acid (phenol) to cover the wound and the rate of infection was vastly reduced. Lister then experimented with hand-washing, sterilizing instruments and spraying carbolic in the theatre while operating, in order to limit infection. //1200

His lowered infection rate was very good and Listerian principles were adopted throughout many countries by a number of surgeons. Lister is now known as the ‘father of antiseptic surgery’.


The German doctor Robert Koch is considered the founder of modern bacteriology. His discoveries made a significant contribution to the development of the first ‘magic bullets’ - chemicals developed to attack specific bacteria - and Koch was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1905.

Koch developed a new experimental method to test whether a particular microorganism is the cause of a disease. Building on Pasteur’s work on germ theory, Koch used experiments to prove that the bacterium Bacillus anthracis was the cause of anthrax - the bacterium could be observed in the tissue of anthrax victims. He extracted this bacterium from a sheep which had died of anthrax, grew it and injected a mouse with it. The mouse developed the disease as well. Koch repeated this process over 20 generations of mice, before he announced in 1876 that he had proved this bacterium caused anthrax.

Koch continued to improve his methods and techniques. By solidifying liquids such as broth with gelatine and agar, for instance, he created a solid medium for growing bacteria which was easier to handle than the liquids used by Pasteur. Koch's assistant Julius Richard Petri (1852-1921) developed the Petri dish, which made the observation of bacteria even easier.

Koch and his team also developed ways of staining bacteria to improve the bacteria’s visibility under the microscope, and were able to identify the bacterial causes of tuberculosis (1882) and cholera (1883). //1200 Adopting Koch's method, other researchers were able to identify the bacteria that caused diseases such as typhus (1880), tetanus (1884) and the plague (1894).


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 561

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