Origin of ordinary things: The syringe

Syringes are pretty basic, standard items that are used daily in the medical industry because of their complete effectiveness.

A syringe is a simple pump consisting of a plunger that fits tightly into a cylindrical tube. 

According to ominisurge.co.za, the word “syringe” is derived from the Greek word syrinx, meaning “tube”.

The first syringes, according to the source, were used in Roman times during the first century AD. They are mentioned in a journal called De Medicina as being used to treat medical complications. Then, in the 9th century AD, an Egyptian surgeon created a syringe using a hollow glass tube and suction.

In 1650, Blaise Pascal invented a syringe as an application of fluid mechanics that is now called Pascal’s Law. He used it in testing his theory that pressure exerted anywhere in a confined fluid is transmitted equally in all directions and that the pressure variations remain the same.

An Irish physician named Francis Rynd then invented the hollow needle and used it to make the first recorded subcutaneous injections in 1844.

Technology to inject drugs into the body, however, is a recent development. Hypodermic syringes (hypodermic means ‘beneath the skin’) consist of a hollow needle attached to a syringe. They pierce the skin and inject substances into the bloodstream. They are also used to extract liquid such as blood from the body.

Hypodermic needles were sterilised and reused until the development of disposable syringes.

In the 1850s, according to sciencemusuem.org, French veterinary surgeon Charles Gabriel Pravaz and the Scottish doctor Alexander Wood developed the syringe. It had a hollow needle fine enough to pierce the skin. Syringe barrels were initially made of metal, but by 1866 they were made from glass (the needles remained metal). This enabled doctors to see what medication remained in the barrel.

By the late 1800s hypodermic syringes were widely available, though there were few injectable drugs (less than two per cent of drugs in 1905). When insulin was discovered in 1921 it created a new market for manufacturers of hypodermic needles and drugs.

Syringes were later advanced in 1946 when Chance Brothers in England produced the first all-glass syringe with an interchangeable barrel and plunger. This was revolutionary because it allowed the mass-sterilisation of the different components without needing to match up the individual parts.

Shortly thereafter, Australian inventor Charles Rothauser created the world’s first plastic, disposable hypodermic syringe made from polyethylene at his Adelaide factory in 1949. 

However, because polyethylene softens with heat, the syringes had to be chemically sterilised prior to packaging, which made them expensive. Two years later he produced the first injection-moulded syringes made of polypropylene, a plastic that can be heat-sterilised. Millions were made for Australian and export markets.

In 1956 the New Zealand pharmacist, Colin Murdoch, invented the disposable plastic syringe. Using disposable syringes can prevent diseases such as AIDS being spread through reuse of syringes.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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