Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Research and Pharmaceutical Progress

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Research and Pharmaceutical Progress

Article excerpt

The renaissance period of history was marked by the revival of learning, great advances in literature and in art, by the discovery of the process of printing, and by religious and political revolt. During this period, even the sciences gave evidence of an awakening. Astronomy led the way with the epoch making discovery of Copernicus in 1530 that the sun and not the earth is the center of the solar system. Pharmacy and chemistry were less fortunate since they could free themselves only with difficulty from the mysteries and superstitions of alchemy with its vain quest for the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life, and the riches and bodily vigor their discovery would insure.

The spirit of the times, especially in pharmacy and medicine, was ripe for reform. The ancient school of Galen then retained its authority and dominated the medical sciences. Under suitable astronomical conditions crude drugs were collected, prepared and administered, almost exclusively for internal use. Chemical compounds were used to some extent externally. The volatile oils from a few roots and herbs had been isolated through the practice of distillation. Beyond this there had been little advance. When Paracelsus, after Valentine had paved the way, declared "Chemistry is not designed to make gold but medicines", the foundations for a renaissance in pharmacy and medicine were laid. Despite the fact that the disciples of Paracelsus failed to separate the wheat from the chaff of his doctrines, the pharmacopoeia began to improve under their influence, particularly by the introduction of inorganic chemicals and the so-called elegant preparations, tinctures and fiuidextracts. What there was of science in medicine was summed up by Paracelsus in the aphorism which was accepted as an axiom by his disciples "Man is a chemical compound ; his ailments are due to some alteration in his composition and can only be cured by the influence of other compounds." Thus was founded the iatrochemical school that eventually overthrew the older galenical school of thought.

Progress was made slowly by the iatrochemists. Their work established firmly the use of such chemicals as mercury, lead, iron, antimony, arsenic and various salts. A decline in the iatrochemical influence occurred when Boyle, in the middle of the 17th century, after the ground had been cleared of the remains of alchemy, pointed the true road to chemical progress; the road guarded by diligent experiment and stringent induction wherein the theorists were also the experimenters. Chemistry then became a science in fact and iatrochemistry became a division of chemistry.

The transition of iatrochemistry into pharmaceutical chemistry is not clearly marked. We think of pharmaceutical chemistry as having arisen from the works of Scheele, Serturner, Pelletiere, Caventou, Baume, Courtois, and a host of others. The results of their work were far reaching in their effects on pharmacy, medicine and chemistry. A single illustration will make this clear. Serturner working in his apothecary shop isolated morphine and described it in 1817 as a "new salifiable base". This announcement created a stir in chemical circles of that time because it completed the analogy between inorganic and organic chemistry. Inorganic chemicals long had been classified as acids, salts and bases. Organic acids and salts were known but the organic bases were lacking. Serturner's salt forming base filled the gap in organic chemical classification for a time. When the alcohols were discovered to be the true organic bases a few years hence, the interest of most chemists in Serturner's discovery ceased. The importance of his discovery increased with time however, for (1) It marked the isolation of the first pure alkaloid from a crude drug. Thus it pointed the way and method of isolating a number of other principles such as other alkaloids and glycosides, etc, which continues in the work on hormones and vitamins in our time. …

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