The inflammation timeline

graphical image showing joint damage treatment

The ancients knew how to recognise inflammation and accurately described how it manifests itself. As technology has improved, so has our understanding of its impact.

5th Century BC

Hippocrates recognises inflammation as an early response to healing after injury, and introduces terms such as oedema and sepsis, which are still in use today.


1st Century

Aulus Celsus records four cardinal signs of inflammation – redness, swelling, warmth and pain – in Da Medicina.

The fifth sign, loss of function, was recognised later.

Aulus Celsus

11th Century

Persian physician Avicenna (Ibn Sina) compiles The Canon, a medical encyclopedia that includes symptoms of inflammatory diseases and recommended treatments, such as garlic to treat acute inflammation, arthritis, gout and more.

Garlic cloves

16th and 17th Centuries

The compound microscope is invented and its resolution improved, allowing descriptions of the inflammatory response in the circulatory system.

18th and 19th Centuries

Microscopes are used to examine how blood flow changes to sites of inflammation.

The role of white blood cells in inflammation is observed and described. Prussian physician Rudolf Virchow suggests a link between inflammation and cancer, cardiovascular and neurological disorders and diabetes.

Aspirin, the first anti-inflammatory drug, is produced and on the market by 1899.

Early to mid 20th Century

Improvements in technology, including the invention of the electron microscope, allow more detailed and precise viewing of inflamed tissue and the body’s response, allowing us a greater understanding of the inflammatory process.

close-up of an electron microscope

1950s and 1960s

Corticosteroids, drugs that reduce inflammation, come onto the market. New types of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are developed, including ibuprofen.



Professor Charles Janeway Jr develops the concept that the body’s response  to invading microorganisms – the molecular basis for how inflammation is initially triggered – is sparked by protein sensors called pattern recognition receptors.


The first biological drug targeting the inflammatory system for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease goes into clinical trials.


The inflammasome, a molecular machine that triggers the immune system’s response to invading pathogens but also drives unhealthy inflammation, is discovered by the team of Dr Jürg Tschopp, at the University of Lausanne.



Professors Bruce Beutler, Jules Hoffman and Ralph Steinman are awarded the Nobel Prize for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity and the role of dendritic cells – processes central to inflammation. 


Researchers around the world continue to discover more about how inflammation is triggered and halted and its contributions to a growing range of diseases. Examples from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience include discovering how the inflammasome is switched off to prevent excessive inflammation, and using lattice light sheet microscopy to view living inflammatory cells in real time.

The Edge - Inflammation

The Edge Magazine