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Updated 12 December 2017

You won't believe what Viagra was used for before ED

Here are four medical inventions discovered by accident.

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Many of the medical inventions we know today were discovered by accident.

Take penicillin for example. Sir Alexander Fleming accidentally left a petri dish with Staphylococcus aureus bacterium out for a few days, which led to the discovery of a powerful antibiotic that is used to this very day.

We found a further four medical inventions that were discovered by accident.

1. Viagra

Initially the famous blue pill was developed as a treatment for angina - unfortunately the trials were disappointing and the drug did little to help prevent angina.

However, the researchers did notice a surprising side effect – an increased number of erections!

“What was amazing about this study was that we saw a restoration of the erectile response. Now we were on to something which could only be described as special,” Chris Wayman, a senior scientist at Pfizer explained, as reported by the BBC

“In many ways you learn as much about your medicine after it’s launched as you knew before,” said Patrick Vallance, head of drug discovery at GSK.

Before Viagra was launched in 1998, there was no oral medication for erectile dysfunction. But today Viagra is one of the most prescribed drugs in the world for erectile dysfunction.


Viagra pills used to treat erectile dysfunction


2. Pap smear

Many women dread making an appointment for a Pap smear – but having that uncomfortable test could save your life.

Dr George Papanicolaou (also known as Dr Pap) accidentally developed the pap smear in the 1940s.

According to an article in the Singapore Medical Journal, he began his research on guinea pigs – and in 1916 discovered that their reproductive cycles could be timed by examining vaginal smears. In 1920 he shifted his focus to humans.

One day he discovered, after observing an abnormal sample from a woman who had uterine cancer, that he could see cancer cells under the microscope.

His initial publication of this discovery in 1928 went unnoticed. But in 1943 he collaborated with Dr Herbert Traut and they published a book called Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by the Vaginal Smear. The book referenced the physiological changes of the menstrual cycle and, more importantly, it showed that normal and abnormal vaginal smears could be viewed under a microscope.

Today, the Pap smear is still used to screen for cervical cancer.

Pap smear equipment

3. The Pacemaker

In 1956, Wilson Greatbatch, an electrical engineer, initially set out to create an internal heart rhythm recording device for the Chronic Disease Research Institute. However, he accidentally installed the wrong part on his prototype and created the pacemaker instead.

He said, “It was no accident, the Lord was working through me… The oscillator required a 10 KΩ resistor at the transistor base. I reached into my resistor box for one, but I misread the colour coding and got a 1 MΩ resistor by mistake.”

The device emitted an electrical pulse that, as it turned out, could help the human heart pump rather than record a heartbeat as was initially intended.

Today, the pacemaker saves countless lives by monitoring and recording the heart’s electrical activity and rhythm.

Close up of a pacemaker

4. Botox

This handy medical procedure has been helping to cure migraines and remove wrinkles since 2002. It too was discovered by accident.

In 1987 doctors Alastair and Jean Carruthers were using small doses of Botox (a dangerous toxin used in biological warfare) to treat eye disorders. But in the process they made a surprising discovery – wrinkles magically disappeared!

“I was dealing with people who were cross-eyed,” Dr Jean Carruthers told Chloe Hadjimatheou of the BBC. “It was one of my patients who got really annoyed at me: 'You didn’t treat me here,' pointing at her medial eyebrows. I apologised and said I would have if she had been spasming there. And she said, 'I know I’m not spasming there; it’s just every time you treat me there I get this beautiful, untroubled expression.'”

Every time Dr Carruthers administered treatment (Botox), her patient discovered that it wasn’t treating her eye spasms but erased her wrinkles instead.  

Botox treatment


Image credits: iStock

 
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