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Current trends in medical electricity

Online exhibition looking at how electricity in a medical capacity has developed from the Antiquities through to the early twentieth century. Quack treatments are examined alongside studies of anatomy and x-rays.

Article by L.H. Newman on Some New Forms of Electrical Treatment December 1889

The discovery of penicillin in 1929 by Alexander Fleming effectively brought about a premature death for electrotherapy. His observation that the mould spores that formed on a micrococcus culture (penicillium notatum) would destroy the bacteria brought about a revolution in medical treatment.

Soon, penicillin's powerful chemotheraputic effect on infectious diseases was concentrated and introduced to human patients. The rapid growth in popularity of this antibiotic therapy meant many branches of electrotherapy became redundant by the end of the 1930s. High frequency treatments and especially X-rays, though, did continue to be of unquestionable importance.

In recent years there has been a resurgence in the use of, and research into, electrotherapy. Its analgesic qualities are being exploited in treatments such as Auricular therapy, Inferential therapy and TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation).

Ultrasonic scanning using high frequency sound waves is now commonly used in obstetrics, cardiology and urology to produce images of structures inside the body and to measure blood flow. In the last two years 3-D imaging has been developed. Ultrasound has an important role to play in the detection of cancers and the ability of its vibrations to break down scar tissue and promote muscle and regeneration is used in physiotherapy.

Among other things, lasers are used to destroy tumours, seal nerve endings and perform cosmetic and corrective surgeries. Indeed, laser surgery has removed many surgical limitations and greatly reduced risk in delicate procedures.

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