Accidental Medical Discoveries

Written by on September 27, 2012 in Health - No comments | Print this page


It is the norm to accept that during a medical procedure or experiment the last thing you want to happen is for something to go wrong; to have an accident. However, did you know that some of the greatest medical discoveries came about through these so called ‘accidents?’. Medicine is an exact science – but at the same time it isn’t at all. The fact that us mere human beings can’t do things just ‘right’ has indeed worked to our favor. Here are a few great medical discoveries that came about, somewhat, through human incompetence.


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When pills are knocked up in a lab, they have to go through a vigorous testing phase before being released to the general public. However, when Pfizer were testing for a new cardiovascular drug they came back with a result in males which was unexpected; a penile erection. So instead of scrapping the drug, Pfizer continued examining the side effects and boom – Viagra was born!


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Quinine is a key ingredient in anti-malaria tablets, helping billions of people across the world. This important medical ‘accident’ discovery was never proven; but many believe it as the truth. Many people believe that a man from South America was wandering helplessly around a jungle, having been infected by malaria. Not knowing what to do, and intensely thirsty, the man drank from a nearby water pool – but little did he know that this pool would save his life. The water pool was surrounded by the cinchona tree, which bark contained quina-quina (the natives thought it was poisonous). After drinking the water, the man felt remarkably better and then spread the word of this magical ‘malaria curing plant’ to the world.

Pap Smear

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In the 1920s, Dr Nicholas Papanicolau stumbled over a discovery which would benefit the human race tenfold; saving millions of women’s lives worldwide. Dr Nicholas had been working with female guinea pigs, observing cell transformation over time; and now he turned to observing women’s cells over the course of the menstrual cycle – taken from vaginal fluid. By chance, one of the women subjects had uterine cancer – and he couldn’t believe his eyes when he could see the mutated cells simply under a microscope. From this, Dr Nicholas Papanicolau concluded that by issuing a standard ‘smear test’ in women, you would be able to test for multiple types of cancer.

Painless Surgery

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At the end of the eighteenth century, a man called Humphry Davy took to the stage to proclaim his findings – but no one at the time really cared. Davy liked to test his theories, well, on himself. So, in the process of finding the cure for a hangover – Davy sucked upon some nitrous oxide; but to no avail – and became somewhat addicted to it. However one day when Humphry was experiencing toothache, he took to the NO2 like normal; and as if by magic, the pain disappeared. Humphry couldn’t believe his findings… and nor did anyone else for about 40 years! Since at the time the general consensus was that pain was a good thing during surgery!

Safety Glass

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You can make some ‘smashing’ discoveries with science, sometimes literally! How safety glass, which is used in medical/science labs everywhere, came about was when a researched knocked a beaker off a high shelf and smashed on the floor. However, it had not smashed into a million dangerous pieces – but a few solid ones. This was down to the chemical which was being contained inside the beaker had coated the glass; holding the glass more firmly together.
In conclusion, it is not advised that you go around medical labs smashing things, pouring things together and testing on yourself to find the cure for cancer or the like; but just remember that sometimes the solution will sometimes come to you in alternative ways.

This is a guest post.  If you are dealing with a condition like Breast Cancer visit Cancer Research UK


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