1960s Medicine & Physiology Achievement Timeline


  • The FDA approves G.D. Searle’s Enovid as the world’s first female oral contraceptive.
  • Race to synthesize Vitamin B12 begins in Zurich (ETH); at Harvard in 1961.


  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA) is discovered in the United Kingdom; Cephalosporin C developed as possibly effective against MRSA; total synthesis of Cephalosporin C achieved in 1965 by synthetic organic chemist Robert Burns Woodward (1917-1979) and explained at his acceptance speech of Nobel Prize that year.
  • New Zealand cardiologist J.C.P. Williams identifies the incurable genetic abnormality “Williams Syndrome” involving a collection of symptoms; associated with “elfin” facial features.
  • Julius Axelrod announces that neurotransmitters such as epinephrine and norepinephrine are recaptured by nerve endings at the synapse and reused (reuptaken) for later transmissions in a sympathetic nervous system.
  • The Eli Lilly Company synthesizes two drugs from plant alkaloids in Madagascar Periwinkle (Vinca rosa): vincristine and vinblastine, with major therapy implications for Hodgkin disease and leukemia.
  • First combination chemotherapy trials, then thought anathema in medicine, prove highly effective in patients with advanced cancers; consists of four drugs – vincristine, amethopterin, mercaptopurine, and prednisone (“VAMP”); begins to address the therapeutic issue of micrometastases; associated with Emil Frei and Emil Friereich.
  • Marshall Nirenberg and J.H. Mitthaei break the genetic code and establish what is known as the central dogma of molecular biology: that information is transmitted irreversibly from DNA to RNA and results in the synthesis of proteins; published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


  • Ernest McCulloch and James Till at the Ontario Cancer Institute demonstrate the existence of stem cells through bone marrow regeneration experiments on mice. Till and McCulloch publish their findings in Nature in 1963, the same year they confirmed (with Canadian microbiologist Lou Siminovitch) that stem bone marrow cells were capable of self-renewal.
  • Leland Clark develops the first glucose meter at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
  • Nodding Syndrome, a disease of children 5-15, first documented in southern Tanzania.
  • Robert A. Good reports to the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology the important role of the thymus gland in immune system development and the fighting of disease. Continues a line of research at the University of Minnesota that leads to the recognition of the two basic arms of the immune system: T cells produced by the thymus and B cells in the bone marrow; Dr. Good is generally recognized as one of the founders of the discipline of immunology.
  • Julius Axelrod and his graduate students start a multi-year study to show how tricyclic antidepressants inhibit neurotransmitter uptake; contributes hugely to understanding of drug metabolism.
  • Rodney Robert Porter determines the peptide-chain structure of an antibody for which he wins the Nobel Prize in physiology in 1972 with Gerald M. Edelman.
  • Physician and pharmacologist, Frances O. Kelsey (1914-2015), receives the President’s Award for Distinguished Presidential Service (August) for her work at the FDA in reviewing and blocking approval of the drug thalidomide.


  • American endocrinologist Grant Liddle at Vanderbilt University identifies a rare autosomal dominant genetic disorder involving extremely high blood pressure and abnormal kidney function now known as Liddle’s syndrome.
  • Roger W. Sperry publishes his Chemoaffinity Hypothesis that states that neurons make connections with their targets based on interactions with specific molecular markers and, therefore, that the initial wiring diagram of an organism is (indirectly) determined by its genotype. The markers are generated during cellular differentiation and aid with, and act as guidance cues for their respective axon.


  • The Epstein-Barr virus is first described, by Anthony Epstein, Bert Achong, and Yvonne Barr in London – the first identified human oncovirus.
  • James W. Black synthesizes propranolol, the first beta blocker (used for regulation of angina), which becomes the world’s best-selling drug.
  • Jerome Horowitz synthesizes zidovudine (AZT), an antiviral drug that will come to be used in treating HIV. 
  • Home kidney dialysis machines appear in the United States and Britain.
  • Johns Hopkins doctors Michael Lesch and William Nyhan describe Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, a rare inherited disorder that is characterized by a build-up of uric acid in all bodily fluids – primarily in males.
  • Peter Safar establishes at the University of Pittsburgh the first intensive care medical training program, ten years after he had established in Baltimore the efficacy of CPR as a emergency revival method.
  • The FDA approves the chemotherapy medication, actinomycin D, the first antitumor antibiotic; marketed by Merck, Sharp & Dohme as Cosmagen.
  • Detroit chiropractor George Goodheart begins body alignment investigations with patients that led to the establishment of the discipline of Applied Kinesiology in 1973. Grows out of polio patients’ debilities occurring decades before.


  • English pediatrician Harry Angelman first describes Angelman Syndrome, a genetic nervous system disorder (“puppet children”). 
  • Robert Good of the University of Minnesota reports evidence on the role of the tonsils in the development of the immune systems of mammals, and as a possible defense againstingested or inhaled foreign pathogens in humans.
  • Julius Axelrod and Richard Wurtman propose the “melatonin hypothesis” – that the pineal gland secretes melatonin in response to changes in environmental lighting.
  • The effectiveness of estrogen to prevent atherosclerosis and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women shown by Morris E. Davis.
  • Vincent T. DeVita and colleagues build on the VAMP chemotherapy regimens of 1961; report first astounding success in cancer remissions with the four-drug chemotherapy protocol of mustargen, oncovin, procarbazine, and prednisone [MOPP] that crosses the blood-brain barrier. Report various subsequent successes in 1967 & 1970.


  • Gynecologist John McLean and biologist Gertrude Van Wagenen at the Yale School of Medicine report the successful use of oral high-dose estrogen pills for post-coital contraception in women and rhesus macaque monkeys respectively. 
  • American internist Victor A. McKusick of Johns Hopkins, researcher of diseases among the Amish, publishes the first edition of his catalogue of all known genes and genetic disorders, Mendelian Inheritance in Man; becomes known as the father of medical genetics.
  • Viennese pediatrician Andreas Rett first describes what he labels simply Rett Syndrome, a female genetic brain disorder.
  • The Muscular Dystrophy Association begins its annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethons.
  • Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) sees first profound effects of music on deeply Parkinsonian patients he later wrote about in Awakenings.


  • The CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service starts its successful ten-year program to eradicate smallpox from the world under the leadership of Donald Henderson.
  • Clomid started for use in oligomenorhea; introduced to increase fertility.
  • 20-year study of adding fluoride to water in Evanston, Illinois shows dramatic drop in dental cavities.
  • A surface antigen for hepatitis B is found in the blood of Australian aborigines by physician and geneticist Baruch S. Blumberg who developed a screening test for the virus and a vaccine in 1974.
  • Philip Strax and Robert Egan, separately, develop evidence for the efficacy of mammography for detecting breast cancer and proper techniques for its application.


  • Outbreak of acute gastroenteritis among schoolchildren in Norwalk, Ohio, caused by “Norwalk agent,” the first identified norovirus.
  • Publication of a Harvard Medical School committee on irreversible coma establishes a paradigm for defining brain death.
  • A disorder caused by a deletion in chromosome 22 is first described by pediatric endocrinologist Angelo DiGeorge and named for himself, DiGeorge Syndrome. 
  • Hong Kong Flu pandemic breaks out (July) derived from H3N2 strain of the Influenza A virus; kills estimated one million worldwide including 34,000 Americans; returns in 1970 and 1972.


  • Reported as being the year an unknown person first brings the AIDS virus (HIV) into the United States, from Haiti.
  • Elias James Corey reports the total synthesis of two naturally occurring E and F prostaglandins.
  • The severe progressive inflammatory lung disease condition ‘diffuse panbronchiolitis’ is named in Japan.
  • North American Riding for the Handicapped Association formed as an advisory body to the practitioners of hippotherapy (equine-assisted therapy) to treat a variety of neurological and motor diseases, as well as behavioral and psychiatric disorders.
  • Dorothy Hodgkin and colleagues at Oxford determine the structure of insulin.



  • The International Committee for the Nomenclature of Viruses (ICNV, est. 1966) accepts the name “coronavirus” for a type of RNA-based viruses previously known only to exist in animals but discovered and described by American and British researchers in humans in 1967 using electron microscopy in pursuit of the mechanisms of the Common Cold. Associated with researchers David Tyrrell, Dorothy Hamre, June Almeida, Ken McIntosh, among others; and David Baltimore who developed a classification system for RNA-structured viruses still used today.


  • The American Academy of Otolaryngology defined criteria for diagnosing Ménière’s disease.
  • Tu Youyou and collaborators obtain a pure extract of the antiplasmodial drug artemisinin, a major advance in the fight against tropical diseases, particularly malaria.
  • PET Scanner for disease detection; magnetic / nuclear resonance imaging (MRI) for body structure invented.


  • The term “dendritic cell” coined by Ralph M. Steinman working with Zanvil A. Cohn.
  • The term “Stockholm Syndrome” coined by Swedish psychiatrist and criminologist Nils Bejerot.
  • Hepatitis B linked to liver cancer.
  • Michael S. Brown and Joseph Goldstein describe the metabolism of cholesterol: that cells have low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors to take cholesterol from the blood and those without enough receptors develop hypercholesterolemia and coronary artery disease. Leads to the development of statin drugs.
  • The field of medical oncology established as a clinical subspecialty of internal medicine as a result of the efficacy of drugs (VAMP, MOMP, and MOPP programs) to achieve dramatic remissions in leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease.


  • V. Craig Jordan showed that tamoxifen prevents breast cancer in rats by binding to the estrogen receptor. In 1978 the Food and Drug Administration clears tamoxifen the treatment of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer.
  • The eponymous first-aid procedure of abdominal thrusts to clear upper airway obstructions and stop what were called “cafe coronaries” described by Henry Heimlich in the journal Emergency Medicine.


  • Doctors from the Epidemic Intelligence Service and Yale identify a distinct syndrome they called Lyme disease for its outbreak in southeastern Connecticut in the town of Lyme and Old Lyme.
  • Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) or Folstein test introduced to screen for dementia or other cognitive dysfunction. Published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
  • Biochemists Cesar Milstein & Georges J.F. Kohler at Cambridge University produce the first single line of identical antibodies, which are called monoclonal antibodies which have potential therapeutic applications such as leukemia.
  • The potent antiparasitic compounds “avermectins” discovered near a golf course on the coast of Honshu by William C. Campbell (b. 1930) and Satoshi Omura (b. 1935); derivative called ivermectin enters medical use in 1981 for humans (e.g. river blindness) and large animals; becomes one of the WHO’s “essential medicines;” included as therapeudic for COVID-19 in 2021. Considered one of the wonder medicines along with aspirin and penicillin.
  • NCI researchers report a cure of advanced diffuse large B-cell lymphoma with adjusted MOPP therapy, C-MOPP.
  • Scottish researchers find the first pain-relieving neurotransmitter, encephalin, which mimics morphine in the brain.


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