Biological Warfare and Medical Breakthroughs: The Incredible History of Botox
Only 13 years have passed since USA Today dubbed it “the little neurotoxin that could.” Since entering the 21st Century, we have seen an explosion of Botox in Hollywood and a crazy mass following of regular people trying to abolish the signs of aging.
Botox is now a household name, but few people realize that smoothing wrinkles was not the product’s original purpose.
It all started with food poisoning. In the 1890s, Dr. Emile Pierre van Ermengem of Belgium was investigating an outbreak of botulism that killed three and paralyzed 23 at a funeral dinner. He discovered the spore-forming bacterium Clostridium botulinum and following this study, seven strains of botulinum toxin were identified.
Upon entering World War II, the United States began to research biological weapons, including what was then considered the deadliest substance in the world: botulinum toxin. A plan, which was designed but never put into action, involved Chinese prostitutes slipping tiny pills containing the substance into the food and drinks of high-ranking Japanese officers.
Once the war ended, scientists started focusing on the beneficial applications of this powerful toxin. Dr. Edward J. Schantz and his team found a way to purify the toxin into crystalline form, and in 1953, Dr. Vernon Brooks found that these “botox injections” could cause temporary relaxation in a hyperactive muscle. The injections were then used by ophthalmologist Dr. Alan B. Scott in the 1960s to try to treat monkeys with crossed eyes.
In 1978, the FDA approved Dr. Scott’s use of the toxin on human volunteers and in the 1980s, the drug became known as an acceptable treatment for strabismus (crossed eyes). Additional research determined the drug’s benefits in relieving patients from facial spasms as well as neck, shoulder, eyelid, and vocal cord spasms. The drugmaker Allergan purchased the rights to distribute the botulinum toxin, and the FDA approved the drug now known as “Botox” in 1988.
Research continued and the many alternative uses for Botox came to light. In 1992, Dr. Jean Carruthers made the game-changing discovery that shaped the way we now approach the signs of aging. The Canadian ophthalmologist noticed that her patients were actually losing their frown lines. She and her husband, a dermatologist, published a study in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology stating that the use of Botox was a safe, though temporary, treatment for brow wrinkles. By 1997, so many people were using Botox that the country’s supply ran out, causing the New York Times to announce a “Botox drought.”
Fast-forward to the end of 2006, when Botox sales soared beyond the $1 billion mark, half of which were for cosmetic uses. Today, the average Botox-user is between the ages of 40 and 59 as it is used as an easy and painless alternative to plastic surgery or laser skin resurfacing. Botox, however, is only temporary, lasting an average of four months before another injection is needed. But it does work; as many as 82% of patients see an improvement within one week of Botox treatment.