David M. Kelly

Science Fiction Writer

The New Age of Medicine (continued from part 1)

ConstantinopleWhen Constantinople (Istanbul) fell to the invading Ottoman army in 1453 many scholars and physicians fled to Europe, carrying with them scientific medical knowledge that had been “lost.” This led to a European resurgence in medical developments.

The 18th and 19th centuries showed steady progress in medical knowledge leading to the establishment in England of the Royal College of Surgeons. With the development Gluckof various forms of anesthesia, such as ether (1842 Crawford Williamson Long), nitrous oxide (1844 Horace Wells) and chloroform (1848 James Young Simpson), it became possible to perform major surgeries such as knee and hip replacements pioneered by German surgeon, Themistocles Glück in 1890.

xrayhandIn 1895 the discovery of X-Rays by Wilhelm Roentgen made diagnostic location much more accurate and allowed for the injuries to be assessed before surgical procedures were carried out. In the same year Norwegian surgeon Axel Cappelen carried out the first successful cardiac surgery.

Twentieth Century

The twentieth century brought about significant rapid developments, including the identification of blood types by Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner (1901) and the electrocardiograph by Dutch physician Willem Einthoven (1905).

In 1914 the first blood transfusion was carried out and in 1917 Harold Gillies pioneered plastic surgery for wounded soldiers. cardiac-pacemakerThe first sex re-assignment surgery took place as early as 1930. First kidney transplant (1954), first cardiac pacemaker (1954), first heart transplant (1967), and first coronary bypass (1968). And in 1972 the CT scan was invented, giving surgeons unprecedented insight into the internals of their patients.

Since the 1980s we’ve seen the development of robot-assisted surgery (shades of Logan’s Run),, first heart and lung transplant, invention of PET scans, and the first stem cell therapies. More recently there’s been the development of self-contained artificial hearts, remote surgery using robotic surgical systems, full face transplants, hand, arm, and leg transplants and more.


With advances in stem cell therapy and cloning, we are literally on the edge of a vast new age of medical interventions and therapies that can tackle diseases and wounds in ways that could never be thought of before, but it doesn’t end there.

The Future

In 2007 a number of groups developed the basis for what may be the ultimate in surgery. Known as CRISPR-Cas. This biological system uses re-engineered bacterial genetic proteins to enact manipulation of gene sequences in living tissues. The relative affordability and ease of access to this technique brings with it the prospect of being able to surgically eliminate genetic disorders in living animals.  This could lead to a world where conditions such as MS, HIV, diabetes, and cancer are a thing of the past.crispr

In my upcoming novel, Mathematics of Eternity, I imagine a future where such interventions and technologies are commonplace and part of the general fabric of society. This leads to some interesting possibilities and several of the characters have various forms of genetic engineering, some significant, some less so. I’m sure we’re not too far from seeing these occur in the real world.

The recent news that Kepler K2-72 may be home to two earth-sized planets in the star’s habitable zone make it an exciting time for astronomers and fans of exo-planets. Whenever I see these stories I always wonder what the star systems might look like if we could travel there.

With that in mind I decided to have a go at something I’ve had in mind for a while–simulating a star-system!

I made use of publicly available data regarding the star itself and newly discovered planets. The data we have is a little sketchy, but enough to get a reasonable approximation. Throw in a little computer simulation wizardry and we have:

As part of my open-source challenge I made use of Blender to do the video editing, with a little help in the titles department from Gimp. The music is a royalty free piece I found on Incompetech. This was assembled (roughly!) in the Blender video editor and I’m pretty pleased with the results.

I’m not sure if this is 100% accurate, but I think it’s reasonably close given the software and data limitations I worked with. It makes me tingle thinking that this is an actual idea of what the real system might look like!

Last week I had further foot surgery and am currently laid up, with limited mobility. This got me thinking about the history of  surgery, and reminded me of a joke I read in one of Isaac Asimov’s books:

The Oldest Profession

A doctor, an engineer, and a lawyer were in their favorite watering-hole discussing who among them had the oldest profession.

The doctor said, “According to the bible, on the sixth day God took a rib from Adam and used it to create Eve making him the first surgeon. Therefore, medicine is the oldest profession.”

The engineer replied, “Yes, but before that, God created the heavens and earth out of Chaos, surely a feat of engineering. So, mine is the oldest profession.”

The lawyer smiled, then spoke up. “True. But who do you think created the chaos?”

That always made me laugh (and it’s a perfect excuse to have a cheap dig at lawyers!)–but what about the real history of surgery?


pic147We tend to think of surgery as a relatively modern invention, dating back only a century or two, but the truth is far different. The first signs of attempted surgeries show up in the fossil record and cave paintings as early as 7,000 years ago (5,000 B.C.) when trepanations (drilling or grinding holes in the skull) were carried out to treat a variety of maladies by relieving pressure inside the skull. Despite the complete lack of scientific knowledge of disease, anesthesia or sterile techniques, these interventions had a survival rate of perhaps as much as fifty percent–possibly a testament to the hardiness of the human species.

history-of-plastic-surgeryEgyptian medicine made use of quite modern-looking techniques to deal with a number of medical problems. In 2,600 B.C. remains of a jaw from a tomb showed evidence of an operation to drain a tooth abscess.Then there’s the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which dates back 3,500 years (1,600 B.C.) and documents forty-eight different treatments for dealing with injuries, fractures, wounds, dislocations and tumors. The papers also describe using surgical sutures, use of natural antiseptics, treatment of spinal and cranial injuries, and also anatomical descriptions including the first references to breast cancer.

sushrutfAround 2,600 years ago (600 B.C.) Sushruta, an amazing Indian physician, wrote a treatise that documented over 1120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants as well as surgical techniques of making incisions, probing, extraction of foreign bodies, cauterization, dentistry, prostate gland removal, hernia surgery, caesarean section, hemorrhoids, perforated intestines, fracture management, and the use of prosthetics. If that wasn’t enough, it also describes a number of dislocations and fractures, classification of eye diseases including cataract surgery, along with their treatment!

hippocratesThen there was Hippocrates, known as the “Founder of Western Medicine.” Around 2,400 years ago (400 B.C.) he taught that wounds should be washed in boiled, filtered water, that a doctor’s hands should be kept clean and he was the first to recognize the difference between benign and malignant breast cancers. He also taught that medicine should be approached using scientific methods and proposed that diseases had natural causes. He formulated the basic rules of medical treatment that are still the basis of medical ethics to this day.

Around 200 years later (208 B.C. ) Hua Tuo, a Chinese physician, was the first person documented to make use of an anesthetic during surgery. His anesthetic was made by combining wine and cannabis, something his clients no doubt enjoyed!

The Fall of Rome and rise of the Christian Dark Ages ended much of the advance in scientific surgical development and knowledge in Europe (along with other scientific knowledge). This lasted until the advent of the Black Death and subsequent Renaissance (around 1350), during which European scholars actively sought out medical and scientific knowledge from Byzantine and Muslim sources.

It’s quite incredible how many of the medical principles and procedures we now take for granted were already formulated by this point in history. In fact, most of the poor outcomes at this time were attributable to three things, the lack of sterile conditions, limited understanding of germ theory and patient trauma from limited anesthetics.

Next week I’ll look at the “new age” of medicine, from the 1400s through to the 20th century and beyond.

Today I’m sharing a post from Dianne Lynn Gardner, the multi-talented author of The Ian’s Realm Saga on the intricate and spell-binding topic of fantasy map-making. High fantasy can be confusing. It’s little wonder that readers find the inclusion of a map a welcome relief. I know as a writer, it definitely makes it easier to keep track of my characters and which way they are headed.

But map making has also become a beautiful addition to fantasy literature. Not only does it help the readers understand where a story’s characters are traveling, what sort of dangers lie ahead, and illustrate Continue reading

Your typical summer reading list is chock full of the heaving chests and gun blazing action that you find in romance and thrillers. Now, I don’t have anything against those, but what about the poor deprived science fiction fan? Don’t we get to read on the beach too? So, especially for you (well okay, and for me too…) I’ve scoured the web in search of your essential SF summer reads. Continue reading

“And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
  You never get rid of the Dane.” – Rudyard Kipling

There’s been a recent trend where many companies, especially in the area of software, to make their products subscription-based. Some of the big names have gone down this path, such as Adobe with its “Creative Cloud” option. Likewise, Autodesk introduced a subscription option for its famous 3DS Max software a year or so back and Continue reading

Drones are fascinating technology and these days seem to come in all different sizes and prices. People are flying them racing them, using them to film movies and weddings. You name it and there’s probably a plan to use a drone for it.

20160604_120902Apart from the sheer pleasure of flying one of them there’s also the lure of technology behind them. Drones wouldn’t exist without it in fact. The ultra miniaturized GPS and accelerometer sensors that makes smartphones work is also what enables drones to be so small and feature-rich.

Recently my local library held a “Lunch & Learn” event for people to Continue reading

I’ve written before about the opportunities to contribute to citizen science, but did you know that your smartphone can also be put to scientific use?

The good news is that there are a number of science related apps that are entertaining and in many cases absolutely free!

The Astronomy Picture of the Day website has been around for many years, providing a daily feast for the eyes with a never ending stream of beautiful astronomical images accompanied by Continue reading

I recently read a great article by Tristan Harris on how technology hijacks people’s minds. He discusses how companies design their websites and applications to leverage psychological effects that lead us in to bad decisions, either through persuading us to buy from them or simply wasting our time with them. And it got me thinking…

There are some website behaviors I see often that are immediate red flags to me. So bad are these behaviors or “features” that I will close down the website immediately. What’s more, when this happens the sites get placed on a kind of mental blacklist and I will never return to that site again. So if you’re looking to attract me, here’s a list of nine things you probably want to avoid. Continue reading

As I’ve mentioned before. I mostly use Scrivener for my writing. Because I want to work on multiple computers/laptops I have made my Scriv install as portable as possible, by running it from a flash drive.

One other useful feature in Scrivener is the idea of template projects. When you start the software you get the option to open an existing project, or create a new one from a selection of pre-made templates.

These  can be customized to Continue reading

Dead Reckoning "...a wonderful introduction to a fun, new Canadian author." Click for excerpt



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