Dec 13, 2016

History Lesson: Botox and Botulism

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By The Hounds

It is likely that knowledge of botulism has been known for thousands of years ... as ancient formulae used by Indian maharajas for killing off personal enemies, and described as a tasteless powder extracted from blood sausages and dried under anaerobic conditions, to be added to enemies food at an invited banquet (Erbguth, 2008). And during the rule of Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium (866 - 911), an edict was proclaimed that “the manufacturing of blood sausages was forbidden” (Smith 1977).

But it was in Napoleonic times some 200 years ago that a group of German physicians gained a much more detailed understanding of this most poisonous of poisons. People started dying off in Southwestern Germany after ingestion of blunzen, (cooked pork stomach filled with blood and spices).  Symptoms typically began between 18 and 36 hours after said consumption and included double vision, droopy eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, dry mouth and muscle weakness ... and death.  Naturally, they blamed the housewives for not cooking these long enough in boiling water! And whereas this might have been true, the misogyny is not lost on us.

Fast forward to the 20th century when this was purified into separate serotype toxins, of which type A was shown by Alan Scott, the father of modern clinical use of toxins, in 1981, to have specific relaxation characteristics in muscle. Since then, Jean and Alastair Carruthers have been pivotal in the development of Botox for cosmetic and medical indications. Such a plethora of uses now exist that these pioneers are recognized internationally as having made a truly monumental impact on modern medicine. 

This is written to acknowledge their contributions and with thanks ...

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