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We live in an ever-changing world, where the science community continues to grow at a rapid rate leading to advancement in modern science and new discoveries almost daily. Thanks to the hard work of doctors, scientists and psychologists across the globe, our medical community continues to push the boundaries of science in an effort to make our lives better and longer.

Over the course of the last few centuries, we’ve seen some amazing discoveries when it comes to medicine and science. From the discovery of LSD by Albert Hofmann to the development of new blood procedures thanks to Jack Goldstein, the medical community works tirelessly to advance the realm of science. However, cures, vaccines and treatments don’t just happen overnight. In some cases, years of experiments take place before the first human trial is conducted.

Thankfully, some scientists over the last several hundred years took matters into their own hands. While considered to be taboo in the medical community to conduct human trials through self-experimentation, these 25 scientists chose to buck the system and create medical breakthroughs despite the odds. Whether it was contracting yellow fever or spending a month in a cave 120 feet underground, these scientists persevered through incomprehensible trials and tribulations to advance the science community.

Personally, we can’t believe what #16 went through in the name of research. Read for yourself.

25. Sir Henry Head

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Sir Henry Head was a 19th-century British neurologist who spent most of his career studying the concept of nerve damage and the regaining of sensation. His obsession with nerves and their recovery led him to begin experimenting. He felt his patients were not describing their pain and overall nerve sensations in enough detail, therefore, Head chose to begin using himself as a test subject.

In 1903, Head had the radial nerve in his left arm surgically severed, with a section removed and the remaining halves stitched together. Over the course of three months, sensation slowly returned to his arm, and he was able to feel pain again. This study eventually led to mapping out the nervous system and its healing properties and how the human brain can process different sensations.

24. Friedrich Wilhelm

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German chemist, Friedrich Wilhelm was the first to isolate what he believed to be an alkaloid that served as the active ingredient in opium. Utilizing a process that involved 52 steps and ammonia to isolate the property, he was able to separate the crystals he would eventually call morphine.

At first, Wilhelm experimented with stray dogs, some he put to sleep, some were put into a more “permanent” status. However, he eventually moved on to clinical trials using himself and three friends. All four ingested 90 milligrams of morphine (which is actually ten times the recommended dose today). Wilhelm quickly induced vomiting, and everyone lived, leading to what would turn into the most popular pain relief drug used today.

23. Santorio Santorio

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Santorio Santorio was a physician in the 16th century who became obsessed with the human body’s digestive system. He posed the question on whether or not what the body expelled through feces and urine, was equal to what was ingested. Therefore, he chose to use himself as a guinea pig for the next thirty years, weighing himself daily along with everything he ate and expelled on a daily basis.

In order to conduct his experiment, Santorio crafted a weighing chair that would weigh him, what he ate and his expulsions. He spent most of his life consumed by this experiment and finally concluded after three decades that what we ingest weighs more than what we expel. Talk about a commitment to science.

22. Ralph Steinman

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Ralph Steinman is known for his work in the field of cancer research. Believing that dendritic cells could help activate immune cells and fight infections within the body, Steinman felt that the cells could be manipulated to combat cancer. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer himself, he realized this was the time to prove that his research was valid.

In 2007, and with less than a 5% chance to live, Steinman launched a human trial on himself, using three different vaccines, experimental cell therapies, as well as chemo. While he ultimately died in 2011, he did live four years longer than doctors predicted.

Steinman would go on to win the Nobel Prize for his cancer research post-humously. His research has continued to help improve cancer treatments for patients across the globe to this day.

21. Jan Purkinje

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Jan Purkinje was a monk turned physician from the Czech Republic who believed that the recommended doses of medications prescribed by physicians were not correct. In order to prove his theory, he began to self-medicate by ingesting drugs himself and then monitoring the side effects.

Purkinje first began by ingesting medicinal plants like foxglove and nightshade, both which are known to stop the heart and blur vision. During his experiments, Purkinje wrote down every detail of what his body experienced. When word got out of his self-experimenting, many in the field reached out to him for help. Purkinje ended up developing atropine, a derivative of nightshade, which is used to dilate the eyes during exams. It’s amazing what you can learn through self-discovery.

20. Hermann Ebbinghaus

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Hermann Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist who began self-experimenting despite it being taboo in the world of psychology at the time. His studies focused on the human memory and from 1879 to 1880 he conducted a self-experiment by crafting a clinical trial that revolved around 2,300 nonsensical syllables, which he committed to memory.

The purpose of using nonsensical syllables was in order to reduce the chance that he would retain the memory of the real syllables due to prior association. At the end of his experiment, he concluded that the more one has to commit to memory, the longer it takes to learn it. However, once it’s forgotten and one has to relearn the material, it is a much quicker process. Isn’t the human brain fascinating?

19. Karl Landsteiner

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Karl Landsteiner was an Austrian physician who began to investigate the properties of blood. His fascination revolved around the fact that when two different blood types were mixed together, the red blood cells would clump as the result of a disease or unknown disorder.

Using his own blood samples, Landsteiner was able to discover that humans have a variety of antigens in the blood that attack red blood cells containing adverse antigens. This would result in the clumping effect. Before his death, Landsteiner was able to help advance the field of science on why blood transfusions between different blood types failed.

18. Jack Goldstein

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Jack Goldstein was a physician who discovered that blood had different types back in the 1970’s. In 1981, he decided he wanted to advance his research on blood further, finding a way to expand the pool of available donors with type-O blood, which is considered a universal blood type. Through his research, Goldstein found an enzyme in coffee that could effectively transform type-B blood into a faux type-O blood.

In order to prove its safety, Goldstein transfused the newly transformed O-blood into his body, since he was type-O himself. He experienced no negative reactions, proving the technique worked and advancing the science of blood donation.

17. George Stratton

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George Stratton was a psychologist at the University of California in the 1890’s who set out to prove that the visual information our retinas receive is inverted upside down, but is flipped once it reaches the brain, so we see right-side up. To prove this theory was true, Stratton wore a pair of inverted lenses, for five details, detailing his experience in a paper of his findings.

At first, Stratton stated that the world seemed almost fabricated and ethereal when it was inverted, with the rooms and objects all appearing misplaced as if they were an illusion. However, by day four he began to see the world right-side up again, and on day five he could carefully move around his house without problems. The research proved that the brain will eventually adapted to visual cues, whether they are inverted or not.

16. Elsie Widdowson

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Elsie Widdowson is known for her research that she conducted during World War II on sustainable healthy diets in a time where food was scarce and what was available was rationed heavily. This led to Elsie beginning her journey into self-experimentation, by reviewing the types of foods that were available in Britain to the public and determining how one could stay healthy and satisfied at the same time.

Elsie discovered a diet consisting of cabbage, potatoes, and bread could keep a person in good health, even when under extreme starvation and calorie expulsion. To test her theory, she hiked over 36 miles in one day on her diet and still felt fine the next day. She eventually submitted her diet plan to the British government who approved it quickly. Her research would go on to help Holocaust survivors recover from their times in the camps.

15. Stubbins Ffirth

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One of the more disgusting incidents of self-experimentation came from 19th century medical student Stubbins Ffirth. Ffirth set out to prove that yellow fever was not contagious, which led to a series of the most revolting experiments anyone has probably conducted. The first round began with Ffirth pouring fresh black vomit from a patient with yellow fever into cuts in his arm. The result? No yellow fever. Next, he began to dribble vomit into his eyes before progressing to smearing blood, spit, sweat and urine of those sick with yellow fever over his body.

Even worse, Ffirth sat in his own self-made “vomit sauna” filled with heated yellow-fever vomit, and still did not contract the disease. This led to Ffirth ingesting vomit, but he still didn’t get ill, which led him to believe yellow fever was not contagious. However, this would later be debunked, since yellow fever is highly contagious, but only if directly transmitted into the bloodstream.

14. August Bier

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German surgeon, August Bier was the first person to invent spinal anesthesia in 1898 thanks to mishaps with self-experimentation and using his assistant as a guinea pig. His treatment involved using a small dose of cocaine that would be injected into the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the spinal cord, which he felt was much more effective than the methods at the time.

In order to test his treatment, Bier let his assistant Hildebrandt administer the treatment, unfortunately he mixed up the equipment leaving Bier with a hole in his neck. This did not sway Bier, who then administered the treatment to Hildebrandt instead. Once he had been successfully treated, Bier hammered, burned and stabbed his assistant to test the anesthesia effects. He even went as far to pull out his pubic hair and crush his testicles. Of course, the next day this did not go over well with Hildebrandt and the two eventually had a falling out. Hildebrandt would go on to be one of Bier’s most outspoken critics. Honestly, can you blame him?

13. Pierre Curie

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In early 1903, physicist Pierre Curie and his wife Marie began experimenting with the effects of radium salts with the hopes of developing a treatment for cancer. Both husband and wife, taped the radium to their bodies, experiencing extreme burns, fatigue and constant pain with the hopes of finding a useful treatment.

Unfortunately, the radium was extremely damaging to their health. Thankfully, the pain and sickness was worth it because they won the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics later that year for their radiation research. This would pave the way for future cancer treatments utilizing radiation.

12. JBS Haldane

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JBS Haldane was a polymath studying the physiology of Navy divers. His father had been at the forefront of such research in the early 20th century, and Haldane hoped to follow in his footsteps but on a much more personal level. In order to study the physiological effects of various gases within the body, he repeatedly put himself in a decompression chamber, motivated for the welfare of sailors who sometimes became trapped in disabled submarines.

His work took a toll on his body, blowing out his eardrums and causing him to suffer from oxygen poisoning and crushed vertebrae. However, his research helped the science community better understand nitrogen narcosis, as well as how to calibrate gases in diving equipment for better use.

11. Nathaniel Kleitman

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Nathaniel Kleitman was a sleep researcher who in 1938 wanted to find out if humans could adapt to a longer day of 28 hours. Accompanied by his research assistant, Nathaniel trekked into Mammoth Cave, Kentucky where he stayed in a cave 120 feet underground. The test offered the perfect environment because there was no natural light and the temperature remained constant, so there were no clues for when it was day or night.

According to his research notes, the experiment was far from comfortable and on many nights Nathaniel found himself sharing his bed with a few resident rats. After a month, he emerged with his assistant, and while he himself had not adapted to the new 28 hour day, his assistant had. Their research would eventually go on to advance the knowledge on the human body’s circadian rhythms.

10. Barry Marshall

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Back in 2006, Barry Marshall and a colleague chose to infect themselves with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori in an effort to identify the cause of stomach ulcers. While it’s widely believed that ulcers are caused by lifestyle choices in the medical community, Marshall was convinced bacteria was to blame. Of course, he chose himself as a human test subject, going behind the backs of the hospital’s ethics committee and his wife.

According to Marshall, the first three days were smooth sailing, despite his wife claiming his breath was horrid. However, after ten days he began to vomit violently and a biopsy revealed that he had gastritis from the bacteria, which will eventually evolve into ulcers. Proving his theory would take another eight years before it was accepted by the medical community, but Marshall believes the trial and error was worth it.

9. David Pritchard

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While researchers infecting themselves with parasites for a study is nothing new, one biologist David Pritchard became famous for letting over 50 hookworm larvae burrow through his skin back in 2004. Why? Well, Pritchard believed that hookworms might be the key to understanding the body’s immune response and could eventually lead to medical treatments for immune system disorders.

According to Pritchard, hookworms were able to modify the body’s immune system’s reactions in certain situations when present in the body. However, 50 turned out to be too many, and when they reached his stomach it caused quite a bit of pain. Other members of his team infected themselves as well and were easily able to kill off the hookworms with a simple drug treatment. Studies involving hookworms and immune system disorders still continue, though we doubt Pritchard will be volunteering anytime soon.

8. Albert Hofmann

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Albert Hofmann was a Swiss chemist who discovered the drug LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). However, that wasn’t his original intention. He was actually researching medical uses for derivatives of fungus when he stumbled upon the drug and eventually was credited with taking the world’s first acid trip. The first time Hofmann tripped with LSD was in 1943, when he mistakenly spilled some of the chemical on his fingertips. According to his journals, he went home and fell into a dream-like state that was less than pleasant.

Hofmann experimented with the drug again, and his second time was worse than the first, when he took a dose that he thought was small before riding his bicycle home. Hofmann stated the intense effects were mind-altering and left him fearing for his life. While his research was meant to utilize LSD in a psychiatric setting, today it is known for its recreational drug use.

7. Werner Forssmann

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In the late 1920’s, Dr. Werner Forssmann was medical intern obsessed with the human heart. During that time it had been considered taboo to touch a beating heart, although Forssmann believed it was the only way to advance science. One evening, he decided to insert a thin tube into a vein below his elbow and worked it into his heart. His fellow colleagues were shocked that he was walking around and able to function. This would be the beginning of the development of cardiac catheterization.

Over the course of the next 30 years, Dr. Forssmann would perform this procedure on himself nine times, even attempting to take x-rays of his own heart. He would eventually go on to win the Nobel Prize in 1956 for his work in advancing cardiac medicine.

6.  Gerhard Domagk

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Gerhard Domagk was a German scientist who is known for winning the Nobel Peace Prize for discovering the sulfa drugs, antibacterial sulfonamides, that would go on to be the basis for several well-known prescription medications. Later on in life, Domagk became obsessed with cancer research and hoped to find a way to kill cancer cells without harming normal ones.

Through his research, he sterilized human cancers and utilized tests on animals in order to develop a vaccine. When he was denied a human trial, Domagk proceeded to inject his serum into himself to see how the body would react. The move was highly controversial at the time and sadly did not yield the results he had hoped for.

5. Horace Wells

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Horace Wells was a dentist in Connecticut who is considered the father of laughing gas due to his discovery that nitrous oxide could be used to dull pain during procedures. He first tested the theory on a volunteer patient, who inhaled the gas which put him into a stupor. While under the influence of the gas, Wells slashed his leg and the patient claimed to have no pain.

In an attempt to further prove his theory on nitrous oxide, Wells became a test subject himself and had another dentist administer the “laughing gas” on him while undergoing a root canal. After the gas wore off, Wells claimed he felt nothing and began using the treatment on his patients. This eventually evolved into what is now used in most surgery centers and dentist offices.

4. Walter Reed

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Walter Reed was a U.S. Army physician, who spearheaded research on the disease yellow fever. While working in Cuba, Reed believed that his patients who were contracting the disease, were doing so as a result of being bitten by the local mosquitoes, however, he had no physical proof that this was the case. Based upon how quickly the fever could spread throughout a community, Reed determined that a mosquito that bit an infected patient could spread it to another via a bite.

To test this theory, Reed experimented on himself along with three colleagues. All three contracted the fever and returned to the United States. Although Reed survived, his fellow test subjects died. Reed eventually returned to Cuba following the breakthrough, but never tested himself again. Sadly, he would die a year later at the age of 51.

 

3. David Fajgenbaum

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Once nicknamed “the beast,” Dr. David Fajgenbaum was considered to be the fittest of his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school. However, in July 2010 his life would change forever when he woke up one night with swollen lymph nodes and sores all over his body. This would be the beginning of his own personal nightmare. For no apparent reason, his body weakened and he suffered from hair loss and muscular atrophy. After several failed treatments, and his immune system on the brink of collapse, David knew his time was running out. Finally, after testing a lymph node sample he was diagnosed with Castleman disease, a condition so rare there was barely any research on it since discovered in the 1950’s.

After years of research, and earning his medical degree in 2013, David began to believe that the reason there wasn’t a successful cure was due to his body not communicating with his T-cells and a protein known as VEGF. He realized he needed to suppress certain triggers from activating and began to take a drug known as sirolimus, essentially becoming his own test subject. After six months, his immune system began to return to normal. Now, David continues to study the disease, his body returning to the physically fit man he once was. He’s optimistic that a treatment for the disease will be approved in the future.

2. Sir Isaac Newton

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Considered to be the founder of modern physics, Sir Isaac Newton was a British astronomer, physicist, and mathematician. Newton was obsessed with the theory of color and prisms. He studied the decomposition of white light into the colors of the visible spectrum and wanted to know more regarding how the human eye interpreted color.

While studying optics, Newton was disturbed by the fact that some people saw strange colored spots in front of their eyes and not all of the colors were consistent. It posed the question of whether or not color was influenced by the eye. In order to find out, Newton stuck a needle between his eyelid and eye, slipping the needle behind the eye. He then documented that the light and dark spots only appeared when he moved the needle and disappeared when he kept it still. Well, that’s one way to get your answer.

1. Pradeep Seth

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Back in 2003, the race to find a vaccine for HIV was still in its infancy. While there was more knowledge than before on how the virus worked within the body, eventually transforming into full-blown AIDS, the disease was still a mystery to cure. Due to the fact that the virus could mutate and every strain of HIV was different depending on the person infected, focus began to shift towards vaccination.

One scientist believed he had a candidate vaccine that would work, however it had not been approved for human use. Pradeep Seth, a doctor in India and head of microbiology at the All India Institute had successful results on mice and monkeys. Therefore, knowing he wouldn’t be sued if he administered to himself, he became the first human test subject. Colleagues deemed his actions unethical, and while the vaccine ultimately proved unsuccessful, it was a brave attempt to learn more about how human DNA responds to the virus.