That’s funny? Serendipity in science & medicine

My teacher in medicine, I am proud to say was Professor Isidore Snapper (1889-1973). Dr. Snapper had fled Holland in 1938 to escape the Nazi onslaught and came to the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States. From there he enjoyed an illustrious career as professor of medicine in major universities and teaching hospitals throughout the world including Peiping Union Medical College in China, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Cook County Hospital in Chicago and finally Beth-El Hospital in Brooklyn, which he transformed into the Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, one of the three major teaching hospitals in Brooklyn.

Dr. Snapper taught that with a small number of notable exceptions, most of the great advances in science and medicine were serendipitous in nature. Serendipity is when you are looking for one thing and accidently discover something else.

Two major exceptions were Dr. Louis Pasteur’s discovery of the Rabies Vaccine and Dr. Jonas Salk’s vaccine against Poliomyelitis. The list of serendipitous discoveries on the other hand seems endless and growing. Isaac Asimov, put it best when he said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’, but ‘That’s funny?’”

Some of the better-known serendipitous discoveries were vaccination, Penicillin, X-Rays, Teflon, pacemakers, immunosuppressive drugs, which made organ transplantation possible and microwaves.

During World War II, the invention of radar was an essential military necessity. It was the serendipitous discovery that a chocolate bar melted in the pocket of an engineer working on a machine designed to produce microwaves for radar that led to the use of microwaves for cooking. Now the same microwave energy originally invented for military radar applications and then applied in the kitchen for cooking food can be used to apply heat directly to the prostate and relieve the symptoms caused by benign enlargement of the prostate.

So serendipity has supplied us with a non-surgical way to treat this male problem, the symptoms of which are common to so many men and include slowing and intermittency of the urinary stream, frequency, urgency, incomplete emptying, sleep interruption, hesitancy in starting and early erectile dysfunction. All the symptoms may not occur every time the patient urinates. The frequency of each symptom varies. Not only is the microwave treatment of the prostate non-surgical, it is easily tolerated in the office and does not require hospitalization or anesthesia. This is especially important for the patient in poor medical condition. In the vast majority of cases, there is no need for any catheter or urinary drainage bag as patients return home after the procedure urinating on their own. So, if you notice something you didn’t expect, particularly if it is related to your health or your medication, and you find yourself saying, “That’s funny?,” tell your doctor; you never know when the next serendipitous advance may take place.

Question? Call Dr. Okun at 718-241-6767

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