Botox, also known as ‘Botulinum toxin-a’ is among the most deadly, naturally occurring neurotoxins on the planet. Not to worry though, it’s still considered safe for smoothing out those frown lines, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and can even provide some relief to those suffering from MS (among other things).
It was identified in the early 1800’s by a German physician, Justinus Kerner, who suspected a batch of sausages were the cause of a series as devastating outbreaks resulting in many deaths. He became the first to identify and publish a systematic clinical description of the toxin and its effects; as well as testing it on himself and accurately prophesying its use as a curative for a variety of medical ailments.
Fast forward a few years and it wasn’t until 1944 that Dr. Edward J. Schantz isolated and purified one type of botulinum toxin, type A. In 1953, Dr. Vernon Brooks discovered that injecting tiny amounts of botulinum toxin A into a overactive muscles could produce temporary muscle relaxation. In the 1960s, Dr. Alan B. Scott began experimenting with monkeys.
The FDA approved human testing with botulinum toxin-a in the 1970s and, for two decades, doctors continued with their experiments. The FDA continued to hand out approvals for the use of Botox and today, there isn’t many body parts Botox can’t be injected into.
With the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. considered using botulinum toxin when researching the use of biological weapons. According to one article, gelatine capsules were actually produced but the plan never went ahead.
Scientists have since established botulinum toxins A through G, all of which have corresponding antidotes to protect infected people from developing a potentially lethal case of botulism. More recently though, botulinum toxin H was discovered and it’s reported that simply sniffing it at a dose of 13-billionths of a gram, or an injection of only 2-billionths of a gram can be lethal. For comparison, arsenic, one of the most popular fatal poisons is lethal at only 1-tenth of a gram.
Because botulinum toxin H does not yet have an antidote, the DNA sequence behind it has been withheld from public databases. This is the first time a sequence has been kept secret over security concerns.
Only a few years ago, research revealed an unintentional and rather dramatic consequence of Botox injections in the forehead. It can actually rearrange the brain’s sensory map of the hands.
Following that, further research a few years later by the University of Queensland found some of the potent toxin can escape into the central nervous system. While no side-effects of using Botox medically have been found just yet, finding out how this highly active toxin travels to the CNS is vital because this pathway is also hijacked by other pathogens such as West Nile or Rabies viruses.
Botox is heavily used throughout the medical and aesthetics industry for a huge range of conditions and concerns and is generally considered safe. Having said that, the latest research seems to suggest that perhaps there are some side effects, especially with long term use, that may end up causing more harm than good. Like most ‘quick fix’ treatments though, it always comes at a cost.
So there you have it. A brief history of Botox and how it came to be. From a bad German sausage, to biological weapon, to one of the worlds most sought-after cosmetic treatments!
- Journal of Neuroscience – Control of Autophagosome Axonal Retrograde Flux by Presynaptic Activity Unveiled Using Botulinum Neurotoxin Type A
- New Scientist – New botox super-toxin has its details censored
- National Center for Biotechnology Information – Altered cortical activation from the hand after facial botulinum toxin treatment
- How Stuff Works – Toxic German Sausages Are Responsible for Botox
- Psychology Today – How facial botox changes your brain – literally
- Science Daily – Botox makes unnerving journey into our nervous system