Botulinum Toxin A has a long and colourful past. It’s evolution from a toxin into one of the safest forms of treatment for various health ailments can only be viewed as something remarkable. Not only is it an antidote to ageing by helping us curb those unwanted lines on our faces, it’s also commonly used to treat ailments such as excess sweating, migraines and teeth grinding. And to believe this journey all started with a bad batch of sausages.
In 1820 Dr Justinus Kerner began to research and study a batch of improperly prepared blood sausages. Believing there was something in the spoiled sausage he conducted experiments. This led to a better understanding of the neurological symptoms of food-borne botulism. Following his studies, Dr Kerner offered suggestions for treatment and prevention of food poisoning, and thereby paved the way for today’s therapeutic use of the toxin.
More than 70 years after Kerner conducted his experiments, Dr. Emile Pierre van Ermengem of Belgium was asked to investigate an outbreak of botulism following a funeral dinner (apparently, somebody brought a bad ham.) He was able to identify strains A through G of botulinum toxin, four of which A, B, E and F can make humans sick.
In the1950’s and 60’s researchers began focusing on the beneficial aspects of this toxin. Dr. Edward J. Schantz and others purified botulinum toxin type A into crystalline form and in 1953 physiologist Dr. Vernon Brooks discovered that injecting small doses of botulinum blocked the release of acetylcholine from motor nerve ending which temporarily relaxed the muscle. In 1960, ophthalmologist Dr. Alan B. Scott began experimenting with the toxin believing it could help with crossed eyes and within the next decade Dr. Scott received government approval to use human participants in his scientific work. Results revealed that botulinum toxin type A was a safe and effective treatment for crossed eyes. Other research showed botulinum toxin was helpful in relieving all kinds of spasms from facial to vocal cord spasms.
As more research was conducted, it was uncovered that wrinkle relaxers temporarily cured excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) and cerebral palsy in the 1990’s. Then a serendipitous event occurred when ophthalmologist Dr. Jean Carruthers noticed her patients were looking fabulously wrinkle–free. After Dr. Carruthers and her husband’s (a dermatologist) study on Botox’s ability to decrease frown lines was published, wrinkle relaxers took off—so much so that it actually ran out of it in the late 90’s.
Wrinkle relaxers certainly has had an illustrious history however; our understanding of its uses and potential is still evolving. As recently as 2014, researchers in the United States conducted the largest randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study to date on the effect of OnabotulinumtoxinA on depression. Researchers found that more than half of subjects suffering from moderate to severe depression showed a substantial improvement (greater than or equal to 50% of baseline) in their depressive symptoms as measured by the MADRS scale. The studies don’t end there with talks of more trials and research being undertaken in Australia and the United States on the effects botox may have on asthma, hayfever and its role in slowing down stomach cancers.
It appears that the potential uses for Botulinum toxin A are endless and with more research and studies being undertaken on this miracle toxin, we like many others are excited to see what further benefits it may provide to individuals.