Lister promoted the idea of sterile surgery while working at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Lister successfully introduced carbolic acid now known as phenol to sterilise surgical instruments and to clean wounds. Applying Louis Pasteur 's advances in microbiology , Lister championed the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, so that it became the first widely used antiseptic in surgery.
He first suspected it would prove an adequate disinfectant because it was used to ease the stench from fields irrigated with sewage waste. He presumed it was safe because fields treated with carbolic acid produced no apparent ill-effects on the livestock that later grazed upon them.
Lister's work led to a reduction in post-operative infections and made surgery safer for patients, distinguishing him as the "father of modern surgery". Lister came from a prosperous Quaker home in West Ham , Essex , England, a son of wine merchant Joseph Jackson Lister , who was also a pioneer of achromatic object lenses for the compound microscope.
At school, Lister became a fluent reader of French and German. Lister attended University College, London ,   one of only a few institutions which accepted Quakers at that time. He initially studied botany and obtained a bachelor of Arts degree in There he joined the Royal Medical Society and presented two dissertations, in and , which are still in the possession of the Society today.
Lister subsequently left the Quakers, joined the Scottish Episcopal Church , and eventually married Syme's daughter, Agnes. By this time, Agnes was enamored of medical research and was Lister's partner in the laboratory for the rest of her life. Before Lister's studies of surgery, most people believed that chemical damage from exposure to bad air was responsible for infections in wounds. Hospital wards were occasionally aired out at midday as a precaution against the spread of infection via miasma , but facilities for washing hands or a patient's wounds were not available.
A surgeon was not required to wash his hands before seeing a patient; in the absence of any theory of bacterial infection , such practices were not considered necessary.
Surgeons of the time referred to the "good old surgical stink" and took pride in the stains on their unwashed operating gowns as a display of their experience. While he was a professor of surgery at the University of Glasgow , Lister became aware of a paper published by the French chemist, Louis Pasteur , showing that food spoilage could occur under anaerobic conditions if micro-organisms were present.
Lister confirmed Pasteur's conclusions with his own experiments and decided to use his findings to develop antiseptic techniques for wounds. In , Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge discovered phenol, also known as carbolic acid, which he derived in an impure form from coal tar. At that time, there was uncertainty between the substance of creosote — a chemical that had been used to treat wood used for railway ties and ships since it protected the wood from rotting — and carbolic acid.
Therefore, Lister tested the results of spraying instruments, the surgical incisions, and dressings with a solution of carbolic acid. Lister found that the solution swabbed on wounds remarkably reduced the incidence of gangrene. After four days, he renewed the pad and discovered that no infection had developed, and after a total of six weeks he was amazed to discover that the boy's bones had fused back together, without suppuration. He subsequently published his results in The Lancet in a series of six articles, running from March through July Instruments were also washed in the same solution and assistants sprayed the solution in the operating theatre.
One of his additional suggestions was to stop using porous natural materials in manufacturing the handles of medical instruments. Amongst those he worked with there, who helped him and his work, was the senior apothecary and later MD, Dr Alexander Gunn.
Lister's fame had spread by then, and audiences of often came to hear him lecture. As the germ theory of disease became more understood, it was realised that infection could be better avoided by preventing bacteria from getting into wounds in the first place. This led to the rise of aseptic surgery. On the hundredth anniversary of his death, in , Lister was considered by most in the medical field as "The Father of Modern Surgery". Although Lister was so roundly honored in later life, his ideas about the transmission of infection and the use of antiseptics were widely criticized in his early career.
Lister's use of carbolic acid proved problematic, and he eventually repudiated it for superior methods. The spray irritated eyes and respiratory tracts, and the soaked bandages were suspected of damaging tissue, so his teachings and methods were not always adopted in their entirety.
He was elected President of the Clinical Society of London. He was also known for being the first surgeon to use catgut ligatures, sutures, and rubber drains, and developing an aortic tourniquet. The only reported reactions were minor symptoms that did not affect the surgical outcome as a whole, like coughing, irritation of the eye, and minor tissue damage among his patients who were exposed to the carbolic acid sprays during the surgery.
Lister's wife had long helped him in research and after her death in Italy in during one of the few holidays they allowed themselves he retired from practice. Studying and writing lost appeal for him and he sank into religious melancholy. Despite suffering a stroke , he still came into the public light from time to time. He had for several years been a Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria , and from March was appointed the Serjeant Surgeon to the Queen,  thus becoming the senior surgeon in the Medical Household of the Royal Household of the sovereign.
Like all internal surgery at the time, the appendectomy needed by the King still posed an extremely high risk of death by post-operational infection, and surgeons did not dare operate without consulting Britain's leading surgical authority. Lister obligingly advised them in the latest antiseptic surgical methods which they followed to the letter , and the King survived, later telling Lister, "I know that if it had not been for you and your work, I wouldn't be sitting here today.
Lister died on 10 February at his country home now known as Coast House   in Walmer , Kent at the age of After a funeral service at Westminster Abbey , he was buried at West Hampstead Cemetery , London in a plot to the south-east of central chapel. Lister was president of the Royal Society between and Following his death, a memorial fund led to the founding of the Lister Medal , seen as the most prestigious prize that could be awarded to a surgeon. He received the order from the King on 8 August ,   and was sworn a member of the council at Buckingham Palace on 11 August Two postage stamps were issued in September to honour Lister for his pioneering work in antiseptic surgery.
Lister is one of the two surgeons in the United Kingdom who have the honour of having a public monument in London. Lister's stands in Portland Place ; the other surgeon is John Hunter. There is a statue of Lister in Kelvingrove Park , Glasgow , celebrating his links with the city. In , it became part of the HCA group of hospitals. A building at Glasgow Royal Infirmary which houses cytopathology, microbiology and pathology departments was named in Lister's honour to recognise his work at the hospital.
Lister Hospital in Stevenage , Hertfordshire is named after him. In , Listerine antiseptic developed as a surgical antiseptic but nowadays best known as a mouthwash was named after Lister.
Pirie , typified by the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes , as well as the slime mould genus Listerella , first described by Eduard Adolf Wilhelm Jahn in In the film, Lister is one of the beleaguered microbiologist's most noted supporters in the otherwise largely hostile medical community, and is the key speaker in the ceremony in his honour.
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