Medical Milestones

milestones in medicine imageMajor Medical Milestones that Depended on Animal Research

Check out the list of Nobel Prize Winners



  • Corneal transplants - The first successful human transplant was of the cornea, the clear covering of the eye. It is normally out-of-reach of white blood cells, so rejection is not a problem. Rabbits
  • Local anesthetics - Cocaine was the first local anaesthetic, but its dangers led to the development of the safer procaine. Rabbits, dogs


  • Blood transfusions - Many doctors and scientists were involved in the research that led to the safe storage and routine transfusion of sterile, compatible blood. Dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits


  • Insulin for diabetics - Before the development of insulin, Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence. Millions of lives, both human and animal, have been saved by insulin. Dogs, rabbits, mice
  • Canine distemper vaccine - Distemper (hard pad) in dogs was rife a century ago. Research on the disease - only possible with very careful isolation and disinfection routines - revealed a virus as the cause and ultimately yielded a vaccine. Dogs


  • Modern anesthetics - Intravenous anesthetics were first used successfully for short surgical procedures in human patients in the mid 1930s. Modern inhaled anesthetics began to be developed from the 1950s. Rats, rabbits, dogs, cats, monkeys
  • Diphtheria vaccine - Before the antitoxin and the vaccine, this disease was widespread, serious and fatal for one in ten. They died from suffocation, paralysis and heart failure. Guinea pigs, rabbits, horses, monkeys
  • Anticoagulants  - Anticoagulants prevent potentially fatal blood clots. Heparin and warfarin were the first anticoagulants developed for human use.Rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, dogs
  • Kidney dialysis - Dialysis saves the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients with kidney failure, and is often used until a kidney is available for transplant. Guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, monkeys


  • Broad spectrum antibiotics for infections - The development of penicillin and other broad spectrum antibiotics revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections in both humans and animals. Mice
  • Whooping cough vaccine - Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is potentially a major cause of child death. Its incidence has dropped steadily wherever the vaccine has been introduced. Mice, rabbits
  • Heart lung machine for open heart surgery - Open-heart surgery for severe heart conditions would be impossible without the heartlung machine to take over circulation and oxygenation of the blood. Dogs


  • Kidney transplants - The best and most cost effective treatment for chronic kidney failure is a transplant. Around 2,000 patients in the UK receive a new kidney every year. Dogs
  • Cardiac pacemakers - Pacemakers are like implanted electronic clocks, sending a small current through a lead to stimulate the heart beat. About 10,000 patients benefit every year in the UK. Dogs
  • Replacement heart valves - Artificial heart valves give a new lease of life to patients - some 6,000 a year in the UK - whose own valves are failing due to congenital defects or disease. Valves from pigs have also been used successfully since the 1970s. Dogs, calves, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats
  • Polio vaccine - The vaccine has eradicated polio in the western world, and a worldwide vaccination program aims to eliminate this crippling disease completely. Mice, monkeys
  • Drugs for high blood pressure - Annual deaths in the UK from high blood pressure were about 20,000 before the introduction of effective medicines. These medicines also reduce the risk of stroke, heart and kidney disease. Rats, mice, cats, dogs
  • Hip replacement surgery - Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis take their toll on our joints and can cause years of suffering. Failing hips, and other joints, can be replaced using artificial joints made of strong, inert material. Dogs, sheep, goats


  • German measles vaccine - This epidemic disease, also known as rubella, mainly affects children, but can also cause severe defects in the unborn child. Monkeys
  • Coronary bypass operations - Healthy arteries can be transplanted from the leg to replace dangerously blocked heart arteries. This operation is now routine and at least 13,000 UK patients benefit every year. Dogs
  • Heart transplants - The first successful human transplant was in 1967, building on experience gained in transplanting other organs and animal experiments. Dogs
  • Drugs to treat mental illness - Lithium was one of the first drugs developed to treat depression, the fourth most common illness worldwide. Rats, guinea pigs, rabbits


  • Drugs to treat ulcers - Drug treatment for ulcers means that surgery to remove ulcers is no longer necessary. Rats, dogs
  • Drugs to treat asthma - Inhaled drugs for asthma prevent or relieve the suffering of asthmatics and save lives. Guinea pigs, rabbits
  • Drugs to treat leukemia - Treatments for the commonest form of childhood leukemia mean that eight out of ten with the disease are long-term survivors. Mice
  • CAT scanning for improved diagnosis - The use of 3D scanners and injected chemicals to improve contrast means that X-rays can show the organs of the body more clearly. Pigs


  • Drugs to control transplant rejection - Without drugs to suppress the immune system, organs could only be transplanted successfully between close relatives, preferably identical twins. Mice, rabbits, dogs, monkeys
  • Life support systems for premature babies - Tiny babies depend for their survival on specialized ventilators, incubators and monitoring systems.Monkeys
  • Drugs to treat viral diseases - Drugs such as amantadine and acyclovir are used to control serious viral infections in both people and animals. Many species
  • Hepatitis vaccines - Vaccines are helping the fight against the infectious (A) and serum (B) virus, which cause hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer.Monkeys
  • Treatment for river blindness - A drug first developed to treat heartworm in dogs has been donated by a pharmaceutical company to save the sight of millions of people in tropical countries threatened by a similar parasitic infection. Rodents, cattle


  • Feline leukemia vaccine - A type of potentially fatal leukemia in cats caused by a retrovirus (FeLV) can now be prevented. Cats
  • Meningitis vaccine - Hib meningitis, once a major cause of meningitis leading to brain damage and death in young children, is now very rare thanks to the vaccine. Mice
  • New drugs for breast & prostate cancers - The survival rates for breast cancer and prostate cancer have improved significantly since the introduction of new drugs. Mice, rats, dogs
  • Better drugs for depression - The new class of antidepressants - selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac - act in a very specific way in the brain and thus have fewer side effects. Rats
  • Combined drug therapy for HIV infection - Combinations of antiviral drugs are currently the best therapy for HIV, often keeping full-blown AIDS at bay for many years. Mice, monkeys


  • Drugs for adult leukemia and lymphoma - Effective monoclonal antibody therapy for these cancers has been developed. Mice, rats, monkeys
  • Alzheimer's disease vaccine? - A vaccine has been shown to be effective in mice in reducing the brain damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, and is now being tested in patients. Mice
  • Gene therapy for inherited diseases? - The insertion of healthy genes to correct gene defects, for instance in cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and thalassemia, is a new idea. It is being guided by studies in animals, which have shown some success. Mice 
  • Malaria vaccine? - A huge effort has been mounted to find an effective vaccine against malaria, which kills three million people every year in tropical countries. Mice, monkeys
  • Mechanisms underlying autophagy - Fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components important to understanding neurologic diseases and cancer. Mice and yeast.
  • In vitro fertilization - Enabling millions of infertile couples to bring children into the world and women to have babies even in menopause. Rabbits
  • Discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer. Hamster, mouse and cow
  • Discovery of human immunodeficiency virus. Monkey, mouse