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What impact has medicine had on the world?

Paulescu’s Pancrein
An illustration of Canadian scientists Frederick G. Banting and Charles H. Best in the laboratory, testing insulin on a diabetic dog, August 14, 1921.
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
The discovery of insulin was no doubt a major breakthrough in medicine—prior to its discovery, diabetes sufferers often died at a young age. But while Canadian scientists Sir Frederick G. Banting and Charles H. Best, along with their colleagues, often are credited with the hormone’s discovery and isolation, Romanian physiologist Nicolas C. Paulescu appears to have beaten them to it. Paulescu isolated a substance called “pancrein,” presumably insulin, in 1916, but he was soon after recruited to serve in World War I. He finally published his findings in 1921, though they were overshadowed by the release of the Canadians’ report early the following year.

Bayer: Take Two and Call Us in the Morning
An early bottle of Bayer aspirin, sold in powdered form.
Bayer Corporation
In 1899 Farbenfabriken vormals Friedrich Bayer & Co. (later Bayer AG) introduced aspirin, a pain-reliever that would come to rank high among the world’s most commonly used drugs. The company credits the synthesis of pure acetylsalicylic acid, aspirin’s active ingredient, to Bayer chemist Felix Hoffmann. However, decades after its introduction, former Bayer chemist Arthur Eichengrün cried foul, claiming to have invented the process of the compound’s synthesis himself, with Hoffmann merely carrying out the procedure. Bayer holds by its claim that Hoffmann was the inventor.

Everybody Stay Calm
Diazepam (Valium) is a benzodiazepine drug that is commonly used to reduce symptoms of anxiety.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
The introduction of the tranquilizer chlorpromazine (also known as thorazine) in the 1950s represented a turning point in psychiatry, one that gave rise to the “psychopharmacological revolution.” Indeed, not only was chlorpromazine successful—by 1964 some 50 million people had taken the drug—but its development also laid the groundwork for the later generation of agents used in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, the characterization of its effects on neurotransmitters and their receptors provided insight into how impulses are passed from one neuron to the next in the brain, leading to major advances in scientists’ understanding of mental illness and cognition.