Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Curare: Jungle and Operating Theater

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Wildlife, Science & Society, Culture, Medicine, Health, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Today we have two cups of joe - Dr. Joe Schwarz who directs the Office for Science & Society, University of Montreal.

First, the video (3m 42s) from the series, The Right Chemistry, is titled "Curare-Poison or Drug? Both!"

Second is an essay "From the Jungle to the Operating Room." The story is really fascinating and includes,
-- a discussion of the early work of Montreal anesthesiologist Harold Griffith

-- the reason why the use of curare was needed and transformed surgery

-- how experimental science has changed

-- the need for an antidote to the effects of curare

-- how molecular chemistry made possible the development of new chemicals with the same effects as curare

-- the long historical path from the jungles to operating theaters

-- experiment with a donkey as the subject

-- the role of a rubber salesman who received curare as a treatment for muscle spasms (I was stunned to learn that his physician was Walter Freeman who developed and performed many cruel surgeries for the treatment of mental illness, one of which is mentioned.).

The essay ends with a connection to Freeman and Squibb Pharmaceutical's commercialization of a standardized version that "within one minute... made the abdomen as soft as dough." 

Joe writes "The rest, as they say, is history."

I recommend this biography of Freeman which you may find gruesome. He was a maverick, to be sure. Driven.

These were two welcome cups of Joe!

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