Birth of Aspirin

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Darnell Shaw
Lab Extra Credit
Hippocrates of Cas (460-377 B.C.), The Healer, noted that chewing leaves of willow (Salix) reduced pain, and he prescribed this remedy for women in labor. The Healer certainly did not discover this drug, which was used for centuries earlier in European folk medicine. Ancient Egyptians took an infusion of dried myrtle leaves to treat muscle pain. The myrtle leaves were also found to contain salicylic acid. Two Italians, Brugnatelli and Fontana, had in fact already obtained salicin in 1826, but in a highly impure form. Johann Buchner, professor of pharmacy at the University of Munich, isolated a tiny amount of bitter tasting yellow, needle-like crystals, which he called salicin (1828). Henri Leroux had improved the salicin extraction procedure to obtain about 30g from 1.5kg of bark (1829). An additional source of salicylic acid was found in 2835 by the German chemist Karl Jakob Lowig. This new wonder pain killer was found in Meadowsweet (Spiraea ulmaria), a wild flowering plant that grows on riverbanks over much of Europe. Raffaele Piria [an Italian chemist] then working at the Sorbonne in Paris split salicin into a sugar and an aromatic component (salicyladehyde) and converted the latter, by hydrolysis and oxidation, to an acid of crystallized colorless needles, which he named salicylic acid. (1838). the problem was that salicylic acid was tough on stomachs and a means of ‘buffering’ the compound was searched for. The first person to do so was a French chemist named Charles Frederic Gerhardt. In 1853, this man neutralized salicylic acid by buffering it with sodium (sodium salicylate) and acetyl chloride, creating acetylsalicylic acid. In 1897, Felix Hoftmann invented acetyle salicylic acid (ASA) for Bayer – a formulation of salicylic acid which did not have the unpleasant side effects of its predecessor. The person in charge of Bayer’s testing laboratories shelved this new drug for two reasons. Initial test on ASA were not...
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