Botox is Made from the Deadliest Toxin on Earth

November 29, 2018

(What can possibly go wrong?)

Botox, the pharmaceutical drug best known for smoothing out wrinkles, took more than a decade to reach its potential.

Initially found to be a treatment for a tight eyelid condition, doctors started realizing that after treatment with botulinum toxin A, patients came out with “lovely, untroubled expressions.”

Here’s the history of how Botox went from an understudied toxin to a blockbuster drug used by millions.

Mitchell Brin has a license plate that says “Botox.”

Brin’s been researching Botox since 1984 and is currently the chief scientific officer of Botox at the drug company Allergan. It’s one of many Botox-related license plates he owns, including some more scientific nods like one that says “Snap-25.” That’s a reference to a protein affected by botulinum toxin A, leading to smoother foreheads when used in the right doses.

“Botox is a big component of my life,” Brin told Business Insider.

Brin is one of the scientists who saw Botox through from its early days as a potential treatment for muscle disorders to what it is today — a blockbuster pharmaceutical drug best known for cosmetic uses like smoothing out wrinkles on patients’ faces.

Here’s the story of how a poisonous toxin became a blockbuster treatment for everything from wrinkles to migraines.

Researchers had been looking into whether botulinum toxin, a neurotoxin that works by paralyzing parts of the body, could be used as a treatment for muscle-related conditions starting around the 1970s.

Yes, it’s a toxin — the deadliest on Earth even. Botulinum toxin is a byproduct of the bacteria clostridium botulinum, the same one implicated in canned food gone bad.

In the 1980s, Vancouver-based ophthalmologist Jean Carruthers was treating people with a tight eyelid condition with Botox injections when one patient got angry with her. She wanted to know why Carruthers hadn’t given her an injection near her inner brow. Carruthers explained it was because she wasn’t spasming there, but the patient was insistent. “Every time you treat me there, I get this beautiful, untroubled expression,” she told Carruthers.

Carruthers took the information from that visit home with her to her husband, Alistair, who worked in dermatology. She told him she might have a solution for his patients who were struggling with their frown lines. He was skeptical, but curious to see it at work. The next day, they tested it out on their receptionist.

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