Nobel Prize-winning research resulted in the discovery of cortisone, which has eased chronic joint pain for decades.
Cortisone has a reputation as a miracle drug. In the news we frequently see that a baseball pitcher has gotten a cortisone shot in his shoulder to pitch a big game, a golfer has scheduled a cortisone shot to ease the lingering pain of an ankle injury, or an ice skater has been authorized to receive a cortisone shot to dim the pain in her knee and skate in the Olympics.
Cortisone is one of the main hormones produced by the adrenal gland, and is released in response to stress. If the body is injured, it will often produce swelling at the site of the injury and pain to indicate that rest is needed to allow time for healing. Cortisone suppresses the immune system, which results in a reduction in pain and swelling. Thus cortisone is often used to ease the pain from injured tendon or joint at the elbow, shoulder, hip, or knee. It is also commonly used for patients undergoing organ transplants to prevent the immune system from rejecting the new tissue.
Discovered by Edward Calvin Kendall at the Mayo Clinic in 1936, which eventually earned him a share of the 1950 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Kendall’s “Compound E” was later renamed cortisone to prevent confusion with Vitamin E. It was used with striking results on patients with Addison’s disease and with rheumatoid arthritis, but it was discouraging that symptoms reappeared when the treatment was discontinued. It remains an often-prescribed and effective measure to combat joint pain, whether for a pitcher to play in the World Series or for a grandparent to chase her grandchildren up the stairs.
More information about cortisone is available at http://joe.endocrinology-journals.org/content/195/1/1.long
This topic was adapted from the technology milestones project of 2001 ACS President Attila Pavlath.