- Lord Joseph Lister (1827-1912)
Although Lister was born in England, the son of a Quaker, he spent most of his professional life in Scotland and all his pioneering work in antiseptics was carried out in Edinburgh> and Glasgow>. He initially came to Edinburgh in 1853 to work under Prof James Syme (and later married Syme's daughter). He obtained posts in both the Royal Infirmary and in teaching at the Royal College of Surgeons>. In 1860 he became Professor of Surgery at the University of Glasgow>.
In those days the death rate from surgery was very high due to blood poisoning and gangrene. Lister read of the work of Louis Pasteur> on micro organisms in fermenting wine and thought that similar organisms were causing infections. He experimented with soaking lint in carbolic acid. This was partially successful but silk used for stitches at that time did not soak up the carbolic. Lister experimented with catgut from sheep (which did absorb carbolic) and that too was successful.
Lister not only established the early theories of antiseptic surgery, including such radical procedures as washing hands before operations, he was also a good communicator who ensured that his ideas were widely adopted. Before his pioneering work, surgery had been limited to amputations. Afterwards, operations inside the body became possible.
In 1877 Lister became Professor of Surgey at King's College Hospital in London. He became the first doctor to be elevated to the House of Lords, when he was made Lord Lister by Queen Victoria> in 1897. Lister had earlier carried out a minor operation on the Queen.
The statue of Lister shown here is in the grounds of Glasgow University - the spire is in the background.
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