In 1899, Felix Hoffman was issued a U.S. patent for Aspirin. He had successfully created a chemically pure and stable form of acetylsalicylic acid in 1897. Aspirin is still used today to fight pain and swelling.
With understanding has come a second renaissance for aspirin, whose storied history has come full circle from ancient painkiller to legal leper, through adventures on the Napoleonic high seas and in interbellum Europe, and finally to a still-burgeoning set of new and preventative uses. It accompanied astronauts to the moon and has been mentioned in the “Guinness Book of World Records,” and the 20th century was even dubbed “the age of aspirin” by Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset.
In 1971, Sir John Vane, then working at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, uncovered the mode of action of aspirin and related compounds, known as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). This achievement ultimately garnered the scientist both the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1982) and a knighthood. The drugs, he found, inhibit the synthesis of a group of hormonelike substances known as prostaglandins. Aspirin and most other NSAIDs inhibit cyclooxygenase enzymes, which normally drive prostaglandin production.
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2005 American Chemical Society