12 Incredible Medical Discoveries Made by Accident

Quinine, a drug still used to combat Malaria, was discovered unintentionally.

Medical advancements occur frequently as scientists work tirelessly to eradicate diseases. However, many discoveries have occurred purely by chance or while trying to investigate something else.

This infographic highlights some of the most remarkable accidental medical breakthroughs, including who discovered them and when.

For instance, did you know that Quinine was first discovered in the 1600s when an unknown man with a fever drank from a pool of water under a quina-quina tree, which miraculously cured him?

Or that Warfarin was initially found when a farmer noticed his cattle were bleeding from anticoagulants in their hay, which is now used as a blood thinner?

Explore the infographic below to learn more about these incredible accidental medical discoveries.

12 Amazing Accidental Medical Discoveries Infographic

FAQ

1. How did penicillin come to be discovered?

Penicillin was discovered by accident in 1928 by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming. He was working on research involving staphylococcus bacteria when he noticed that a mold called Penicillium notatum had contaminated one of his petri dishes. He observed that the bacteria around the mold had died and concluded that the mold must have produced a substance with antibiotic properties. This discovery led to the development of the first antibiotic, penicillin, which has saved countless lives since its introduction.

2. What led to the discovery of X-rays?

X-rays were discovered accidentally in 1895 by German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. He was conducting experiments with cathode rays when he noticed that a fluorescent screen in his lab was glowing even though it was not directly in the path of the rays. He realized that a new type of ray was being produced that could penetrate solid objects, and he named them X-rays. This discovery revolutionized medicine by allowing doctors to see inside the human body without surgery.

3. How was the pacemaker invented?

The pacemaker was invented in 1950 by Canadian electrical engineer John Hopps. He was working on a device to help regulate heartbeats when he accidentally discovered that electrical stimulation could cause a heart to beat. This led to the development of the first implantable pacemaker, which has since become a life-saving device for people with heart conditions.

4. What led to the discovery of insulin?

Insulin was discovered in 1921 by Canadian scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best. They were working on research involving the pancreas when they accidentally discovered that a substance called insulin could regulate blood sugar levels. This discovery led to the development of the first treatment for diabetes, which has since saved countless lives.

5. How was the smallpox vaccine discovered?

The smallpox vaccine was discovered by English physician Edward Jenner in 1796. He noticed that milkmaids who had contracted cowpox, a much milder disease, did not get smallpox. He hypothesized that cowpox could protect against smallpox and conducted an experiment in which he injected a boy with cowpox and then exposed him to smallpox. The boy did not get sick, and this led to the development of the first vaccine.

6. What led to the discovery of the polio vaccine?

The polio vaccine was developed by American virologist Jonas Salk in 1952. He was working on research involving the poliovirus when he accidentally discovered that a killed virus could still trigger an immune response. This led to the development of the first polio vaccine, which has since helped to eradicate the disease in many parts of the world.

7. How was the discovery of the benefits of aspirin made?

The benefits of aspirin were discovered in the late 19th century by German chemist Felix Hoffmann. He was trying to find a treatment for his father’s rheumatism when he accidentally discovered that a compound derived from salicylic acid could reduce pain and inflammation. This led to the development of aspirin, which has since become one of the most widely used drugs in the world.

8. What led to the discovery of the benefits of statins?

The benefits of statins were discovered in the 1970s by Japanese biochemist Akira Endo. He was working on research involving fungi when he accidentally discovered a compound that could lower cholesterol levels. This led to the development of the first statin drug, which has since become a common treatment for high cholesterol and heart disease.

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