Let’s take a moment to sing the praises of the infusion pump. Yes, yes, it does seem like a rather mundane topic to get excited about. But consider our ability to feed, hydrate, and deliver medicines and solutions to the human body intravenously. Ponder for a second how great a step forward it was for mankind to develop the means to inject life-giving, life-preserving fluids into the blood stream.
A Brief History
The use of a syringe was first recorded during the time of the Romans by a gentleman named Celsus. Celsus wrote on many different subjects, but one of his works was a medical manual in which he tells of the use of a “piston” syringe to treat medical “complications.”
In 1650, French physicist Blaise Pascal invented the first “modern” syringe. He had been studying the principles surrounding the transmission of fluids using pressure, and from this came the syringe and a host of other inventions including hydraulics.
Intravenous (IV) infusion was first recorded as being attempted in the late 1400’s. But it wasn’t until the 1650’s where physicist Robert Boyle and architect Christopher Wren first started giving intravenous injections to animals. They had been experimenting with transfusions and IV infusion along with several other prominent physicians for a few years. One of those physicians was Richard Lower, who is said to have performed the first successful blood transfusion in around 1667. But Christopher Wren gets the historical credit for creating the first working IV infusion device in the late 1650’s.
Over the next 150 years-or-so, the process of IV infusion was slowly refined. Soon after the first transfusions were performed, they were banned in England, France, and Italy due to a number of deaths that resulted from them.
There were many failures with this early medical equipment, yet many discoveries and inventions were born out of those failures; the science of bacteriology, for instance. Better sterilization techniques and smaller, more effective needles were also generated during this period.
In the early 1830’s, Dr. Thomas Latta administered saline solution intravenously to Cholera patients on a large scale. He is said to have, for the most part, pioneered the process. Things only progressed from there, especially during the World War years which, out of necessity, spurred many advances in the delivery of blood and medicine through intravenous infusion. Needles and tubing were modified, and in the 1950’s, bottles were replaced with plastic bags.
The Infusion Pump
Another development in IV infusion technology was beginning to bubble up in the 1950’s. Interest was growing in the development of an “automated” bedside IV infusion system, mainly for use in operating rooms and intensive care units. The goal was to produce a machine or “pump” system that would automatically regulate the timing, volume, and dosage of medicines, fluids, and blood products administered to a patient.
A system like this would be much more efficient. It would save countless man-hours where nurses and doctors would not have to continuously give shots, personally administer IV’s, or do as much monitoring, and it would also allow great flexibility in the amount or volume of substance being delivered. These were just a few of the many advantages that the infusion pump offered.
The first infusion pump was developed and built by SigmaMotor, Inc., and the pumps started shipping in 1961. Due to a few early snags, the pumps were redesigned several times. But SigmaMotor (later just Sigma) built and sold thousands of units in the early-to-mid ’60’s, and a giant leap in medical technology and overall healthcare had begun to take hold.
The infusion pump has positively affected humanity in immeasurable ways. Countless medical supply companies, such as Alaris (Medsystem III), Baxter, Curlin, Hospira, and Smiths Medical, just to name a handful, carry IV supplies and a wide variety of infusion pumps, both new and refurbished.
Today, this mechanical “medical miracle” is a standard piece of equipment. Of course there have been many “offshoots” and variations to the infusion pump; the latest being portable and disposable devices… and the evolution continues.