Putting 6 Great Canadian Medical Breakthroughs Under the Microscope

Canada may be relatively small in population compared to other developed countries around the world (including the U.S.), but it seems to contribute more than its fair share of medical breakthroughs.

From the early 20th century onwards, Canadian doctors and researchers have found treatments for complicated and common diseases that range from irregular blood sugar to autoimmune dysfunctions. To honor our neighbors to the north for Canada Day on July 1, let’s look at 6 of Canada’s top medical discoveries that have saved lives around the world…

1. Diabetes Treatment

Diabetes may have recorded cases dating back to the Egyptian dynasty era, around 1,500 BCE according to the Canadian Diabetes Association. It was then referred to as “the passing of too much urine.” We now know that diabetes is the inability of the pancreas to produce enough of the hormone that controls blood sugars, which can be potentially fatal.

In 1921, Canadian physician Frederick Banting made a discovery along with American-born colleague Dr. Charles Best, and the pair presented their findings to the medical community that same year, noted the association. After some experimentation, the first human subject received treatment for diabetes in 1922.

2. Polio Vaccine

Polio was once a highly-feared infectious disease that carries symptoms from fever to stomach pain to becoming paralyzed, and it can also be fatal if not treated. Prior to the vaccine in 1955 (which is credited to American medical researcher Jonas Salk), a Canadian made a key discovery.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research notes that ten years prior to the development of the vaccine, Canadian Dr. Raymond Parker at the University of Toronto discovered “a chemical nutrient in which cells can grow and replicate, playing a role in the discovery of the polio vaccine.”


3. Pablum

Rickets was once a problem that plagued children, but in 1930, a trio of physicians from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto created Pablum as a treatment for this disease that causes soft bones and stunted growth, according to Legion magazine.

Pablum is actually a pre-cooked cereal that contains essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to the healthy development of a child, namely Vitamin D, which ultimately prevents rickets, noted the source. Prior to this, there were thousands of cases of rickets per year, whereas there are only about 100-per year in Canada today. Pablum has been used around the world.


4. HIV/AIDS Treatment

Canadians have played a role in developing a widely-used drug for the treatment of HIV, an immunity-sapping virus that destroys healthy cells and leads to AIDS, which is deadly. In 1989, three Canadians based in Montreal developed the drug known as 3TC to control HIV.

It is now the “most widely used drug in the world in the treatment of HIV,” according to AboutKidsHealth.ca. The drug helps prevent the transmission of the disease from parent to child during pregnancy or breastfeeding, notes the source, which also says transmission rates drop from 35-percent to under 5-percent when 3TC is used.


5. The Pacemaker

The popular heart-helping device was apparently the brainchild of a Canadian named Dr. John Alexander “Jack” Hopps, who developed the first external pacemaker in 1951 according to The Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

A pacemaker artificially stimulates the heart and controls abnormal heart rhythms, potentially extending the life expectancy of the patient. The first internal pacemaker, which is most commonly used today, was first installed by a Swedish medical team just 7-years later.  


6. A Successful MS Treatment?

Multiple Sclerosis, or MS as it’s commonly referred to, is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that can wipe out motor function along with other health complications. There have long been medications designed to control the progression of the incurable disease, but recently Canadian medical professionals made some headlines through detailing an experimental treatment.

The treatment basically involves removing stem cells from the patient and purifying them in a lab, which has reportedly yielded remarkable results for some patients with progressed MS. However, experts are being careful not to call it a “cure” for MS, as it may have different results for different patients, as Maclean’s magazine points out. Still, during a 13-year study by Ottawa-based doctors Harold Atkins and Mark Freedman, eight of 24 patients saw a return of some functions following the procedure.

multiple sclerosis

Jeff Hayward

Jeff Hayward

Jeff has more than 15 years of experience writing professionally about health, travel and the arts among other subjects. He continuously looks to improve his own overall health through exercise, diet and mindfulness. He is also a proud stay-at-home dad that loves taking photographs both professionally and as a hobby.