Medical Innovators: Michael E. Debakey

Dr. Michael DeBakey, a heart surgeon who invented dozens of medical procedures, devices and instruments, died this weekend at age 99 after a extremely long and productive career. (He continued practicing medicine well into his 90s.) While in medical school in the 1930s, he devised a device called a roller pump that eventually would become a core technology in heart-lung machines. Although Dr. Debakey is recognized for many innovations, he only patented a few inventions, including a rotary blood pump in 1999. (US5947892)

Other American medical innovators include Dr. John Gibbon, inventor of the heart-lung machine (US2,702,035) and Forrest M. Bird, inventor of the first low-cost medical respirator in the world. (US3,068,856)

Patenting medical procedures and devices is controversial. Some countries, such as Canada, ban patents for medical therapies. In the 1950s, the American Medical Association lobbied to extend patent protection to medical treatments but as recently as 1995, it condemned doctors who sought to patent certain medical procedures.

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