A History of Medical Firsts in London, Canada

Your health is in good hands in London. Whether you’re seeking specialized care, or are interested in the latest medical research, rest assured London offers the best care from the brightest minds in southwestern Ontario.Known as the go-to destination for healthcare in the region, London’s 60+ companies and hospitals and their 25,000+ employees are advancing human health by leading research, development, and commercialization in the industry. 

With a complete range of scientific, clinical, testing and data management services available, London’s health sector has particular strengths in clinical trials, medical devices, and medical technologies.

Medical Firsts in London
From the discovery of Insulin and successful surgical procedures using innovative technology, to advances in human trials for HIV vaccines, London is known for its rich history of medical firsts. Here are some of London’s many medical firsts over the years:

  • 1920 - WORLD FIRST: October 31, 1920, after preparing for a lecture on the pancreas, Sir Frederick Grant Banting arose from a restless sleep in his London, Ontario home and wrote down words that would forever change his life and the lives of millions suffering from Diabetes: "Diabetus. Ligate pancreatic ducts of dog. Keep dogs alive till acini degenerate leaving islets. Try to isolate the internal secretion of these and relieve glycosurea." This 25-word hypothesis would eventually lead to one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th century. Banting's house is now a museum dedicated to preserving his legacy - the Banting House National Historic Site of Canada located at 442 Adelaide Street North in London.
  • 1949 - NATIONAL FIRST: In 1940 Dr. Willem J. Kloff refined his idea for a machine that could fulfill the kidney's detoxification duties outside the body. His machine saved the life of its first patient in 1945 and the age of dialysis was born. Dr. Jacobus van Noordwijk, who had worked with Dr. Kolff, spent a year at LHSC’s Victoria Hospital instructing physicians on how to build and operate an artificial kidney machine.
  • 1951 - WORLD FIRST: Revolutionizing cancer treatment throughout the world, the Eldorado Cobalt-60 radiation technology, nicknamed the “Cobalt Bomb”, was first installed at LHSC on October 23, 1951. This was the first major advancement in the radiation treatment of all cancers, aside from skin cancer, since Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays in 1895. The technology doubles the survival rate for early-stage cervix cancers from 30% to 60%, and benefits an estimated 35 million cancer patients.
  • 1970 – FIRST IN CANADA: Jones Packaging introduces the first child safety vial to the Canadian pharmacy market. Jones Packaging is a family-owned packaging design and manufacturing company located in London, started in 1882 by Henry Jones and Frank Lawson.

  • 1978 - BREAKTHROUGH: Dr. Henry Barnett was recognized internationally for leading some of the most important clinical trials investigating stroke treatments. He conducted a global level study and successfully demonstrated that aspirin was effective in preventing stroke. This ground breaking work significantly improved the management of heart disease and the treatment of millions of stroke patients worldwide.
  • 1981 - WORLD FIRST: LHSC’s University Hospital performs the world's first heart operation to correct life threatening right ventricular dysphasia. Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD) is a rare form of cardiomyopathy in which the heart muscle of the right ventricle is replaced by fat or fibrous tissue. As a result, the ability of the heart to pump blood is usually weakened. LHSC surgeons were the first in the world to correct a case of life threatening ARVD.
  • 1982 - NATIONAL FIRST: Researchers at St. Joseph's Health Care London were the first to show that nuclear magnetic imaging could distinguish diseased tissue from normal tissue. In 1982, they were the first in Canada to achieve a human image using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This milestone led to advances that were pioneered across London in the 80s and 90s in neuroscience, cardiovascular, orthopaedic and neonatal MRI.
  • 1983 - NATIONAL FIRST: LHSC’s University Hospital first to perform heart-lung transplant in Canada. Heart-lung transplantation occurs in patients with end-stage cardiac and pulmonary disease, where the heart cannot pump blood well enough to reach all tissues in the body and the lungs are not getting enough air.

By 1887, the hospital had established itself internationally as a centre for multi-organ transplantation, leading to the creation of the Walter J. Blackburn Multi-Organ Transplant Unit - the first of its kind in Canada.

  • 1983 - PROVINCIAL FIRST: First pediatric heart transplant in Ontario is done at LHSC’s University Hospital in London. Heart transplants are widely performed across London. In 2012, the London Health Science Centre completed its 600th heart transplant. The 30 year program has completed more heart transplants than any other centre in Canada.
  • 1983 - WORLD FIRST: The first-ever compact valved holding chamber was created by Trudell Medical International. Since its launch, the AeroChamber brand of Chamber has continually been updated and improved upon by Trudell.
  • 1987 - WORLD FIRST: A team of LHSC cardiologists develops the world's first pacemaker cardioverter defibrillator (PCD) implantation procedure using virtual reality technology, in partnership with medical equipment from Medtronic. The new procedure requires only two or three x-rays, significantly lowers x-ray needs during pacemaker implantation.
  • 1988 - WORLD FIRST: First successful liver-small bowel transplant is performed at LHSC’s University Hospital in London, Ontario, which even today is still a relatively rare procedure.
  • 1994 – WORLD FIRST: The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame is created in London, Ontario. Started by Londoners, the hall of fame is a national, charitable organization dedicated to recognizing and celebrating Canadian heroes whose work has advanced health in Canada and around the world. Take a look at their 20 year timeline here.
  • 1997 - WORLD FIRST: Surgeons transplanted a liver, bowel, stomach and pancreas into a five-month-old infant, the world's youngest recipient of a multi-organ transplant setting a Guinness World Record.
  • 1997 - FIRST IN CANADA: LHSC cardiac surgeons are the first in Canada to perform a revolutionary method of video-assisted minimally invasive heart surgery. Surgeons used the da Vinci Surgical System to complete the surgery. The Canadian Surgical Technologies and Advanced Robotics (CSTAR) in London is one of only eight training centres in the world for these surgical systems, which trains and certifies surgeons to perform minimally invasive procedures.
  • 1999 - WORLD FIRST: Surgeons performed the world’s first robotic-assisted, closed-chest cardiac single bypass procedure on a beating heart at LHSC’s University Hospital in 1999.
  • 2001 - WORLD FIRST: Researchers at LHSC complete world's first study to help epilepsy sufferers. They find strong evidence that surgery, not medicine, for temporal lobe epilepsy is key to improving quality of life. LHSC's Epilepsy Program later (in 2017) becomes the first in Ontario to perform a robotic-assisted stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) procedure, in which electrodes are placed into the brain to map epileptic seizure activity.
  • 2008 - WORLD FIRST: LHSC performs robotically-assisted intestinal bypass surgery for a patient with Wilkie’s syndrome, using the da Vinci® robot. A traditional intestinal bypass for patients with superior mesenteric artery syndrome (SMA) - also known as Wilkie's syndrome - requires one-week hospital stay and involves significant postoperative pain. By using the da Vinci robot, surgeons were able to reduce the patient's hospital stay to three days with minimal use of pain medication.

The da Vinci robot.

  • 2009 - NORTH AMERICAN FIRST: LHSC became the first hospital in North America to use a robotic-arm neuro-angiogram machine in an operating room. The Zeego, manufactured by Siemens, is a floor-mounted neuro-angiogram machine designed to take images during surgery.
  • 2012 - WORLD FIRST: Neuroscientist Adrian Owen has been using brain-imaging techniques to detect consciousness in patients who are presumed to be vegetative, sometimes for many years. By giving simple commands and then measuring brain activity, Owen has learned some patients are completely aware despite being entirely unable to communicate or move their limbs. Owen said his MRI technique reveals that there is some awareness in about one in five patients in a vegetative state.
  • 2016 - WORLD FIRST: An HIV vaccine (SAV001) developed at Western University by Dr. Chil-Yong Kang in 2012 can now move on to Phase II human clinical trials. Plans are underway to test it in 600 HIV-negative subjects across North America as early as next fall. The Phase II trial, once approved by government regulatory agencies, will determine the vaccine’s ability to produce anti-HIV antibodies in patients who are not infected with the virus.
  • 2018 - WORLD FIRST: Surgeons at London Health Sciences Centre’s University Hospital have performed a world-first robotic aortic valve replacement on a patient suffering from aortic stenosis – a narrowing of the aortic valve caused by calcification. They replaced the patient’s value with a tissue one that doesn't require permanent sutures to stay in place, and using the da Vinci robot, results in less recovery time and lower risks of complications for the patients.

Additional resources:

You can also view the milestones in this interactive timeline tool:

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