Medical Breakthroughs


Medical Breakthroughs Presentation Pack Medical Breakthroughs Presentation Pack
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16th September 2010
Stamp Type:
Stamp Details:
1st Beta-blockers ...      ▼ expand stamp details
58p Penicillin
60p Hip-replacement
67p Artificial lens implant
88p Malaria parasite
97p Computed tomograhy scanner.
Reference Images:
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Royal Mail provided background information for this issue
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Mint Stamps

The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of medical research and technology since William Harvey first described the circulation of the blood in 1628. British physicians and scientists can justly take credit for the discovery and application of smallpox vaccination, anesthetics, anti-septic surgery and many public health measures, but perhaps some of the most important breakthroughs have taken place in the last 120 years.

This issue celebrates six of the most significant medical breakthroughs from the 20th century.

The Stamps

A medical historian was consulted to determine the twenty most significant British medical breakthroughs from the past 100 years. Her recommendations were short-listed to six for the stamp issue covering the areas of cardiovascular medicine, drug therapy, transplant surgery, ophthalmology, medical imaging and parasitology.

Howard Brown then designed the stamps using existing medical images of the chosen subject matter.

Stamp by stamp

1st Class

Heart-regulating beta-blockers synthesized by Sir James Black 1962
Beta blockers are used for various indications, but particularly for the management of cardiac arrhythmias, cardioprotection after myocardial infarction (heart attack), and hypertension. Propranolol was the first clinically useful beta adrenergic receptor antagonist. Invented by Sir James W. Black in the late 1950s, it revolutionized the medical management of angina pectoris and is considered to be one of the most important contributions to clinical medicine and pharmacology of the 20th century.


Antibiotic properties of penicillin discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming 1928
The discovery of penicillin is attributed to Scottish scientist and Nobel laureate Alexander Fleming in 1928 He showed that, if penicillium notatum was grown in the appropriate substrate, it would exude a substance with antibiotic properties, which he dubbed penicillin. This serendipitous observation began the modern era of antibiotic discovery.


Total hip replacement operation pioneered by Sir John Charnley 1962
Sir John Charnley began his research into hip replacement in 1949 when he moved his clinical practice as an orthopedic surgeon to Wrightington Hospital near Wigan. While suffering many setbacks during its development Charnley finally performed the first successful hip replacement operation in 1962. This subsequently became the gold standard treatment for this condition and has remained the most successful surgical and radiological procedure up to the present day.


Artificial lens implant surgery pioneered by Sir Harold Ridley 1949
Whilst working with Royal Air Force casualties during World War II, Ridley noticed that when splinters of perspex from aircraft cockpit canopies became lodged in the eyes of wounded pilots, they did not trigger rejection, leading him to propose the use of artificial lenses in the eye to correct cases of cataracts. He had a lens manufactured using an identical plastic – Perspex CQ made by ICI – and on 29 November 1949 at St Thomas’ Hospital, Harold Ridley achieved the first implant of an intraocular lens.


Malaria parasite transmitted by mosquitoes proved by Sir Ronald Ross 1897
In 1897, Ronald Ross discovered the presence of the malarial parasite within a specific species of mosquito, the Anopheles. He initially called them dapple-wings and following the hypothesis of Sir Patrick Manson that the agent that causes malaria was spread by the mosquito, he was able to find the malaria parasite in a mosquito that he artificially fed on a malaria patient. Later using birds that were sick with malaria, he was able to ascertain the entire life cycle of the malarial parasite, including its presence in the mosquito’s salivary glands. He demonstrated that malaria is transmitted from infected birds to healthy ones by the bite of a mosquito, a finding that suggested the disease’s mode of transmission to humans.


Computed tomography scanner invented by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield 1971
While on an outing in the country, Hounsfield came up with the idea that one could determine what was inside a box by taking X-ray readings at all angles around the object. Hounsfield built a prototype head scanner and tested it first on a preserved human brain, then on a fresh cow brain from a butcher shop, and later on himself. In September 1971, CT scanning was introduced into medical practice with a successful scan on a cerebral cyst patient at Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon, London.

Product portfolio

Presentation Pack No. 446

The fully illustrated Presentation Pack contains the six Medical Breakthroughs stamps. Inside Dr Richard Barnett of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge takes a look at how these medical breakthroughs came about. The pack was designed by Howard Brown and printed by Walsall Security Printers.

Stamp Cards

Six postcards bearing enlarged images of each of the medical breakthroughs stamps go on sale about a week before the stamp issue date.

Retail Stamp Book - (to be issued 22 February 2011)

A Retail Stamp Book featuring four 1st Class Machins and two 1st Class beta-blockers stamps, to mark the British Heart Foundation’s 50th Anniversary.

Mint Stamps - Technical Details:

Feature Type/Detail
Number of stamps Six
Design Howard Brown
Acknowledgements Inferior anterolateral view (left side) of the heart and its major blood vessels: ©, Petri dish culture penicillum notatum: Wellcome Photo Library, Wellcome Images, Coloured X-ray of the pelvis of a 74 year old woman, showing hip replacement: Dr P. Marazzi/Science Photo Library, Intraocular lens, an artificial implanted lens placed in the eye surgically: Helen Mcardle/Science Photo Library, Coloured transmission electron micrograph of a section through a misshapen red blood cell infected with a malaria parasite (Plasmodium sp.): Dr Tony Brain/Science Photo Library, Coloured computed tomography (CT) scan of an axial section through a patient’s abdomen showing a false aneurysm (red) due to chronic pancreatitis: Du Cane Medical Imaging Ltd/Science Photo Library.
Stamp format Landscape
Stamp size 37mm x 35mm
Printer Cartor Security Printing
Print process Lithography
Number per sheet 25/50
Perforations 14.5 x 14
Phosphor All over
Text © reproduced with the permission of Royal Mail Group Ltd. All rights reserved.