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Lancet. 2012 Apr 21;379(9825):1517-24. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60282-1. Epub 2012 Apr 18.

Physics and medicine: a historical perspective.

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  • 1Department of Medical Physics, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK. stephen.keevil@kcl.ac.uk

Abstract

Nowadays, the term medical physics usually refers to the work of physicists employed in hospitals, who are concerned mainly with medical applications of radiation, diagnostic imaging, and clinical measurement. This involvement in clinical work began barely 100 years ago, but the relation between physics and medicine has a much longer history. In this report, I have traced this history from the earliest recorded period, when physical agents such as heat and light began to be used to diagnose and treat disease. Later, great polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci and Alhazen used physical principles to begin the quest to understand the function of the body. After the scientific revolution in the 17th century, early medical physicists developed a purely mechanistic approach to physiology, whereas others applied ideas derived from physics in an effort to comprehend the nature of life itself. These early investigations led directly to the development of specialties such as electrophysiology, biomechanics, and ophthalmology. Physics-based medical technology developed rapidly during the 19th century, but it was the revolutionary discoveries about radiation and radioactivity at the end of the century that ushered in a new era of radiation-based medical diagnosis and treatment, thereby giving rise to the modern medical physics profession. Subsequent developments in imaging in particular have revolutionised the practice of medicine. We now stand on the brink of a new revolution in post-genomic personalised medicine, with physics-based techniques again at the forefront. As before, these techniques are often the unpredictable fruits of earlier investment in basic physics research.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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