Alan Scott’s Use of Botulism to Fix Eye Muscles Led to Serendipitous Discovery of Botox to Smooth Wrinkles

(p. B11) It is a neurotoxin 100 times more deadly than cyanide and the cause of the food-borne illness known as botulism. During World War II and for some years after, the Department of Defense hoped to develop it as a chemical weapon. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Alan Scott, an ophthalmologist, turned the botulinum toxin into a pharmaceutical, when he began to investigate it as a medical treatment for serious eye impairments.

. . .

When, in 1978, Dr. Scott first injected the powerful paralytic into the eye muscles of a patient who had undergone retinal detachment surgery that had left his eye pulled to one side, he didn’t know who was more nervous, himself or the patient, he told Scientific American magazine in 2016.

But the procedure succeeded, and Dr. Scott would go on to refine one of the world’s deadliest poisons into a life-altering treatment — he called it Oculinum — for those who suffered from conditions like strabismus, a misalignment of the eyes.

Doctors also began using it to treat migraines and jaw-clenching, among other ailments, and as they did so many of their delighted patients noticed a curious byproduct: The toxin’s ability to paralyze targeted facial muscles smoothed the lines around them, though its effects wore off after a few months.

For the full obituary, see:

Penelope Green. “Alan Scott, 89, Eye Doctor Behind Medical Use of Botox.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 18, 2022): B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Jan. 20, 2022, and has the title “Alan Scott, Doctor Behind the Medical Use of Botox, Dies at 89.”)

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