Learn more about the breakthroughs and innovations first achieved at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. 

Key points

  • Breakthroughs and innovations in surgery and anaesthetics
  • History-making appointments, departments and services
  • Breakthrough research and knowledge
  • Innovations in technology

An iconic organisation is so much more than the bricks and mortar which house it. The potency of its history is derived from the calibre of the people who worked there, the immense challenges they overcame and the extraordinary milestones they achieved.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) has been at the forefront of many Australian firsts and world-renowned innovations for more than 170 years. 

Surgery and anaesthetics

1902: Pioneering work at the hospital in anaesthetics led to the discovery that sudden death under chloroform was due to cardiac and not respiratory failure

1929: Victoria's first blood transfusion service was established at the hospital and the employment of the first dietitian in an Australian hospital

1960: Discovery of malignant hyperthermia following investigations into one family's history of anaesthetic deaths

1963: First successful kidney transplant in Australia

1973: The world's first 'free flap' reconstructive micro-vascular surgery operation was performed at the RMH by one of our plastic surgeons

1979: Australia's first coronary angioplasty, commencing a new era in endovascular surgery with arterial ballooning and stenting

1996: Australia's first keyhole coronary bypass operation was performed without a heart/lung machine

1996: World's first aortic stent graft occurred when vascular surgeons at the RMH implanted the first Talent graft in a human and repaired the world's first traumatic thoracic aortic rupture using an endograft

2000: The RMH was the first Australian hospital, and only the second in the world, to use computer-assisted surgery, initially in joint replacement surgery

2011: The RMH neurosurgeons pioneer Victoria's latest breakthrough in neurosurgery using a drug known as Gliolan, which makes cancerous brain tissue glow a fluorescent pink, giving patients access to cutting-edge technology and improving surgical outcomes

2014: Six patients received a kidney in Australia's first six-paired kidney transplant in May

2019: The RMH performed our 1000th live kidney transplant in October. The RMH is one of the largest transplant services in Australia and the first to reach 1000 live donor kidney transplants

The RMH neurosurgeon Associate Professor Kate Drummond with a surgical colleague
The RMH neurosurgeon Associate Professor Kate Drummond (right) with a surgical colleague following neurosurgery using Gliolan in 2011.

Appointments, departments and services

1925: Australia's first full-time qualified specialist radiologist was appointed to the hospital

1929: Becomes a leader in the provision of welfare services to patients with the employment of the first social worker in an Australian hospital

1929: First Australian specialised dietetics department was established

1965: Australia's first university chair in Radiology was created jointly at the hospital and the University of Melbourne

1975: Formation of the Vascular Surgery Unit, the first of its kind in Australasia to specialise in arterial surgery

1990s: Hospital psychiatrists lead Victoria's move from an asylum-based system to a general health and hospital-based system, and the establishment of area-based mental health services

2001: The RMH opened Victoria's first dedicated Stroke Unit and in 2010 appointed Australia's first stroke nurse practitioner

2002: The hospital in October was designated as a Centre for Clinical Research Excellence in Infectious Diseases. In 2006, our Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory was selected as one of only four World Health Organisation Global Specialised Influenza Laboratories worldwide

2014: Opening of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, a world leader in education, teaching and research excellence. The institute is a joint venture of the RMH and the University of Melbourne

2014: The staff influenza vaccination program achieved a vaccination rate of 95 per cent compliance — the highest result ever achieved by an Australian health service

2014: The RMH launched Australia’s first Indigenous Australian Internship Program to support an Indigenous Australian medical student through their internship and first year as a House Medical Officer

2016: In April and May, patients from our cancer wards and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) were moved into two brand new spaces; a 32-bed Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant ward and a 42-bed capacity ICU. These were constructed as part of the VCCC project

2016: Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews officially opened the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre in July. The VCCC will house 1200 cancer researchers from the RMH, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and University of Melbourne. United States Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the opening

2017: The Clinical Trials Centre opened in August, enabling patients increased access to the world’s newest medical breakthroughs

2017: In an Australian first, the Virtual Fracture Clinic commenced. The clinic, run by orthopaedic surgeons and advanced practice physiotherapists, supports patients to manage simple fractures at home, without attending the hospital in person

2019: Our new $9.3 million state-of-the-art Acute Stroke and Neurology Ward opened its doors to Victorians in February

2019: Our Bone Marrow Transplant service received international recognition in May as one of the best in the world

Research and knowledge

1940 and 1950s: Early research in neurology and on radiological examination of the brain culminated in the publication in 1957 of pneumoencephalography, which became a seminal text used worldwide

1970s: Diabetes research led to received international acclaim and citations for our doctors for their work in clarifying the relationship between insulin receptor in cells and the action of insulin

1979: Establishment of the first Bowel Cancer Registry in Australia and pivotal groundwork for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program was undertaken following studies by doctors at the RMH on bleeding patterns in colorectal cancer and benign tumours

1980s: In a world-first, doctors invent artificial blood vessels at the RMH - 'Omniflow' biovascular grafts made of collagen and used worldwide as substitute arteries and for dialysis treatment

Late 1980s: A vascular atlas of the human body was created by the RMH reconstructive and plastic surgeons

1990s: Pivotal clinical trials in the use of Colony Stimulating Factors revolutionised cancer therapies worldwide and made cytokine therapy with G-CSF and GM-CSF a standard of care in cancer medicine

2006: The RMH in March performed the world's first implant of cultured specialist stem cells in an orthopaedic patient

2012: Announcement of a world-first that the RMH researchers were investigating the use of Botox to reduce the debilitating tremors and shakes in people with multiple sclerosis

Early 2015: The RMH clinical staff participated in the Speaking Up for Patient Safety survey, the first of its kind ever undertaken by an Australian hospital

2015: The EXTEND-IA randomised clinical research study led by the RMH was declared a “game-changer” for stroke treatment worldwide, enabling dramatic improvements in the treatment of stroke patients

2016: A world-first clinical trial was announced in January, where the RMH, Peter Mac and WEHI medical researchers showed that patients with an advanced form of leukaemia can achieve complete remission with a novel tablet treatment, using the drug venetoclax

2016: A world-first stem cell trial for Parkinson’s disease started in September, using a new revolutionary type of stem cell that is injected into the brain in a bid to cure Parkinson’s disease

Early 2017: An Australian-led global study shed new light on therapy choices for Multiple Sclerosis patients, helping to find the right treatment for the right patient at the right time

2018: A trial commenced in July to determine if a simple stick of peppermint chewing gum can help to treat patients who feel nauseous after surgery

2018: In April a breakthrough in stroke medical research by the RMH and the University of Melbourne found a drug traditionally used for heart attacks dissolves blood clots in the brain faster and more effectively than standard stroke drugs

2019: Stroke researchers looked to the skies for latest breakthrough, announcing in August plans to develop the world’s first stroke air ambulance. This incredible innovation has the potential to transform access to emergency stroke treatment for people in rural and regional areas

2019: A new Phase III trial announced in December and led by the RMH is investigating shifting the treatment time for stroke to 24 hours, enabling more patients to be treated

2020: In January, scientists from The Doherty Institute were the first to grow and share the novel coronavirus, COVID-19

2020: The RMH researchers working on the frontline commenced a project in September to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers

2020: In October, the RMH announced that the Stentrode™ had been implanted successfully in two patients, who both suffered from severe paralysis due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease (MND). The tiny device has been shown to help patients with upper limb paralysis to text, email and even shop online in the first human trial

2020: A world-first multi-centre international study (SPOT-AF) led by the Royal Melbourne Hospital published in October that smartphone monitoring of patients with stroke was effective in detecting atrial fibrillation (AF). Additional world-first research also revealed how weight and genes can trigger atrial fibrillation that increased the risk of stroke

2021: The first comprehensive study of illicit drug use and motor vehicle trauma found that one in eight of those who end up in the emergency major trauma centre - whether a driver, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian - test positive for an illicit drug. Of those, 77 per cent are under the influence of methamphetamine. The study was led by clinicians at the RMH and published in the journal, Drug and Alcohol Review

2021: The RMH is a proud research partner of The Brain Cancer Centre, a new research Centre established to bring together Australia’s best medical research minds to end brain cancer as a terminal illness

2021: The RMH was Victoria’s first health service to administer sotrovimab, a monoclonal antibody therapy, for COVID-19 treatment


1965: Development of Australia's first cardiac pacemaker

1984: The first implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) operation in the southern hemisphere was performed at the RMH

1995: Australia's first bionic ear electrode for the brain implanted at the RMH

2001: The RMH was one of the first hospitals in the world to introduce wireless "Pill Cam" endoscopy use

2003: The RMH became the first Australian hospital to incorporate leading edge audiovisual technology with the installation of interactive telesurgery equipment

2015: A new intraoperative MRI was installed in July, enabling surgeons to image a patient via an MRI scanner while a patient is undergoing surgery

2015: Royal Park Campus opened a movement lab that used 3D motion capture technology, allowing doctors to detect human movement that was not visible to the naked eye, helping them to develop targeted treatments to help patients improve their walking and balance

Late 2016: Australia's first stroke ambulance was announced, with the aim to save more lives by providing the quickest possible diagnosis and treatment for patients suffering a life-threatening stroke. The MSU hit the road in 2017

2018: The Stentrode™ was announced in December 2018. It is a tiny device that electrically stimulates the brain and could one day be used to treat conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease without invasive surgery. Clinical trials were scheduled to start in 2019/20

2020: The RMH ED staff created a platform in June to monitor patients for COVID symptoms outside of the hospital, by using pulse oximeters to measure oxygen levels in the blood and send this data back to the hospital via a patient's smartphone

2020: The Parkville Precinct Electronic Medical Records system is launched in August, linking the RMH, Peter Mac, The Royal Children's Hospital and The Royal Women's into a combined system to support the delivery of clinical care

2021: The RMH's A/Prof Luke Burchill was received the 2021 Knowledge and Innovation Award at the City of Melbourne’s 2021 Melbourne Awards. He was recognised for his efforts developing RMHive, a mental health support app that helps healthcare workers feel informed, supported and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond

Last updated 20 September 2023