Minnesota Research Firsts in Medical Devices, Procedures,
Health Care, and Bioscience

Historic Firsts - 1950-1980

Open-heart surgery

C. Walton Lillehei (left), the father of open-heart surgery, and Richard Varco. Courtesy University Archives. [132K] See "Into the Heart: A Medical Odyssey" by writer G. Wayne Miller in the Providence Journal, Jan. 10 - 18, 1999. [King of Hearts by G. Wayne Miller, Random House, October 1999]

See also the Lillehei Heart Institute and "A Heart Operation: Perspective from a Playground" by MBBNet columnist William Hoffman, July 12, 1999.

Blood pumps

The helical reservoir bubble oxygenator, invented by Richard DeWall (pictured) and C. Walton Lillehei, made open-heart surgery a practical procedure. Courtesy University Archives. [149K]

Cardiac pacemaker

Famous Saturday Evening Post photograph (March 4, 1961) showing cardiac patient David Williams holding a wearable external pacemaker invented by Medtronic founder Earl Bakken and being examined by C. Walton Lillehei. [165K]

Cortisone therapy

Edward C. Kendall (seated) and Philip S. Hench (far right) of the Mayo Clinic were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1950 for the isolation and first clinical use of cortisone. By permission of the Mayo Foundation. [182K]

Research History at the Mayo Clinic

The diet-heart disease connection

Professor of public health Ancel Keys established the link between dietary fat, serum cholesterol and heart disease in the 1950s. Shown here early in his career, today Keys is a towering figure in cardiovascular epidemiology. [132K] [Keys profile by Henry Blackburn, MD., Mayo Professor Emeritus of Public Health]

Anesthesia monitor

A portable mass spectrometer built by physics professor Alfred O.C. Nier to monitor the concentration of anesthetic vapors during surgery. Its successor is a fixture in operating rooms all over the world. [132K]

Pancreas transplants and transplantation in diabetes

The University of Minnesota is a leader in organ transplantation. The first pancreas transplant took place in 1966 at the University of Minnesota Hospital under the direction of Richard C. Lillehei and William Kelly. John Najarian and David Sutherland (center) subsequently established the clinical efficacy of kidney and pancreas transplants in diabetes. U of M surgeons performed their 1,000th pancreas transplant, the most worldwide, Nov. 27, 1998 at Fairview University Medical Center. [182K]

Bone-marrow transplantation

The world's first successful bone-marrow transplant took place in 1968 at the University of Minnesota Hospital under the direction of pediatric immunologist Robert Good. [149K] Today University scientists and clinicians are pioneering the use of bioengineered cells and umbilical cord blood in bone-marrow transplantation to treat cancer and genetic diseases.

The Green Revolution

Distinguished University graduate in forestry (BS.) and plant pathology (MS., PhD.) Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for leading the efforts to improve wheat varieties and introduce them around the world. Borlaug has left "an indelible mark on the world" for his successful fight to feed the world's hungry and to eliminate the many ills associated with hunger, in the words of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Mechanical heart valves

University surgeons, cardiologists and engineers were pioneers in mechanical heart valve design. The bi-leaflet mechanical valve was used clinically for the first time Oct. 3, 1977 at University of Minnesota Hospital and soon became the industry standard. [248K]

Tissue culture technology

In the early 1970s a research team led by Ronald L. Phillips, now a Regents' Professor of Agronomy and Plant Genetics and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, regenerated whole corn plants from cells in tissue culture. The research opened the way for the genetic engineering of corn and other cereal crops beginning in the late 1980s. These technologies are transforming agriculture in the U.S. and around the world, resulting in disease-resistant crops, lower levels of chemical usage in crop production, and stable supplies of healthier grains. [225K]

Implantable drug infusion pump

The Infusaid implantable pump invented by surgeons Henry Buchwald and Richard Varco, mechanical engineers Frank Dorman and Perry L. Blackshear Jr., and physiologist Perry J. Blackshear. [132K]

Artificial blood

The first use of artificial blood in a patient took place in 1979 at the University of Minnesota Hospital. [99K]

Minnesota's Top 10 Contributions to Medicine, Leonard G. Wilson, PhD. Minnesota Medicine, December 1999.

Research History at the Mayo Clinic

Biomedical Technology Gallery and Tours