Last week, our coverage of Canada’s 35 greatest innovations focused on things that changed culture. This week, we examine how Canadian Innovators have influenced the world of Medicine. Canadian medical innovations have changed how people live their daily lives and exactly how long some people get to live out their daily lives.
Most have at least a basic understanding of insulin and how it regulates sugar in the body, but prior to Canadian physician Frederick Banting’s work in 1921 much of how to extract and utilize insulin for medical purposes was shrouded in mystery. Banting and colleagues did what many for a few decades before could not accomplish: They successfully extracted and utilized the first major treatment for diabetes. Banting went on to receive the Nobel Prize for his advancements of medicine. The first patient to be treated with insulin was a 14-year old boy in Toronto in 1922 and thanks to Canadian Innovators he went on to live many more years as have children and adults all over the planet.
In 1950, canadian electrical engineer, John “Jack” Hobbs, created the first external pacemaker. The machine was first tested in the University of Toronto’s Banting Institute (named after the father of insulin himself). Hopps went on to found the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society; he is often referenced as the “father of biomedical engineering in Canada”. What is most notable is that Hobb’s innovation went on to pave the way for our modern application of the artificial pacemaker. Thanks to John Hobbs, the University of Toronto and Canadian innovation, millions have been able to live successful, healthy and longer lives.
For this next innovation we introduce George Klein, a native to Hamilton, Ontario whose innovative presence has impacted the technological world drastically. Among his many, many inventions (everything from space travel to nuclear power) Klein innovated one creation that allows millions and millions of people throughout the world to lead independent lives midst disabilities. Klein’s work to create a motorized wheelchair came about through The National Research Council of Canada to improve the lives of War Veterans post-WWII.
The first use of prosthetics goes back over 2,000 years, but it was not until 1971 that Canadian Helmut Lucas created the first electric prosthetic hand. What makes Lucas’ innovation especially unique is that it utilized signals from patients muscles and nervous system to actually move and position the prosthetic hand. This qualifies the innovation as a robotic prostheses. Robotics in medicine is still a widely growing and emerging field, but thanks to innovators like Helmut Lucas there is no limit to how robotics will save and improve human life.
Roland Galarneau, visually impaired from birth, taught himself to read using a homemade microscope. In May 1972, Galarneau developed a homemade electromechanical computer linked to a teletype machine which fed its memory. It scanned and translated texts into Braille at a rate of 100 words per minute. Galarneau’s innovation had a specific goal, which was to improve the lives of those with visual impairments. His goal was to make reading accessible to the masses no matter their ability, a goal founded in Canadian innovation and human advocacy.
Wheelchair Accessible Bus
While, many Canadian innovations have improved the lives of those with illnesses and disabilities there are many ways those innovations are stunted by other structures in society. Walter Harris Callow, a blind, quadriplegic veteran, took one of those structures to task by inventing the first wheelchair-accessible bus in 1947. He took his first and only ride after death, when his body was transported for his funeral. Between the works of Canadian innovators like Callow, Klein and Galarneau doors to independence and success have have been opened that would otherwise be closed.
There is so much to celebrate when it comes to how human life has been impacted by Canadian innovations. Literal extra years have been given to us by Canadian innovation for us all to celebrate. Next week our party reaches its climax as we look at Telecommunication innovations, continue celebrating BrantTel’s 35th and Canada’s 150th birthdays! As you gear up for Canada Day, feel free to share this list with friends you know whose lives has been improved by Canadian medical innovation.