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BOTULINUM TOXIN - A little history

Posted Fri 1 June 2018

Don’t we love a brand? From our handbag, to our sunnies, via our fat free cola to our hope in a jar potions, brands label our world. These must-have logos surely made their owners rich beyond their dreams.

In the world of plastic surgery, one brand of botulinum toxin towers above the rest, its name synonymous with smooth foreheads and youthfulness. And yes, it is a brand. So who invented it and who got rich on the back of it? It’s a story of rare altruism that makes us questions today’s approach to funding medicine.

A couple by the name of Carruthers ran an ophthalmology practice in Canada where they used botulinum toxin to correct eye spasms. One day a patient asked if he could be injected in his forehead. When asked why, the reply came that it stopped his wrinkles. The Carruthers discussed this between themselves and, to cut a long story short, the use of botulinum toxin beyond ophthalmology was born.

Today the Carruthers have a busy practice and have published numerous papers on the use of botulinum toxin. They are affluent but not fabulously wealthy because they didn’t patent their idea.

Andrew Carruthers, an English medical student who worked at Hammersmith Hospital before moving to Vancouver, explains:

‘We learned in med school that if you have an idea you give it away.’ In this way doctors give back to society what it gave them in education. He worked for 30 years in medicine before concentrating on cosmetic medicine so he feels he has paid his dues.

Now that we make students pay back their education, will they be so ready to give away their ideas for the greater good? Saddled with up to £70 000 of debt by the time they graduate, won’t they instead be tempted to patent and profit?

Let’s not get political but it does make one think. Perhaps we are paying for student debt with intellectual property and prompting yet another brain drain from Britain? That’s enough to furrow my brow – better get some botulinum toxin!

Patience Wellbeing, Plastic Surgery Blogger