French physician who invented the modern hypodermic needle and the modern galvanocautery. In 1853 Pravaz published a description of the first hypodermic syringe, with its hollow metal needle. Alexander Wood (1725-1884) independently invented a similar device during the same year. With the hypodermic syringe, physicians had a new means of administering drugs, especially the highly purified drugs that had become available through the work of nineteenth-century chemists. Injections of morphine were subsequently used to provide local anesthesia.
There is some disagreement over who invented the hypodermic syringe. There is, however, consensus as to the year. In 1853 either Alexander Wood, a Scottish physician, or Charles Gabriel Pravaz, a French surgeon, was first to develop a device recognisable as today’s hypodermic syringe. More generous scholars contend that they did so virtually simultaneously.
Sadly, for him, Pravaz had the misfortune of dying in the June of 1853 shortly after he had developed his version of a syringe with a thin metal needle attached to its end. Whereas Wood went on to publish a paper, A New Method for Treating Neuralgia by the Direct Application of Opiates to Painful Points, in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal in 1855 and in doing so provided the hypodermic syringe with a formal introduction to the world.
It seems Wood’s, or indeed Pravaz’s, invention was not called a hypodermic syringe until Dr Charles Hunter, a young house surgeon at St George’s Hospital in London, coined the name in a paper published in 1858 (presumably borrowing from the Greek: “hypo” for under and “dermic” for skin).
Hunter has been described as something of an adversary of Wood due to his contention that it was unnecessary to inject morphine into the actual site of a patient’s pain or neuralgia. Rather, he argued that the drug had a systemic effect and was therefore equally, if not more so, efficacious when administered to a more general area of the body (avoiding the unpleasant consequences of multiple injections at the one site).
Unfortunately for Hunter, he died in his early forties. Thus, like Pravaz before him, he predeceased his rival, allowing the legacy of the older (and by all accounts much respected) Alexander Wood to be the one with historical legs.