Target Health Blog

Friedrich Serurner (1783 - 1841)

October 22, 2018

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History of Medicine
Source:

Lithography of the German pharmacist Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner. He discovered morphine in 1804.By Julius Giere - Scan from "Paderborn - Geschichte der Stadt in ihrer Region. Band 2. Die fruhe Neuzeit: gesellschaftliche Stabilitat und politischer Wandel", p. 402, Verlag Ferdinand Schoningh, Paderborn 1999, ISBN 3506731211, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1456652

Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner (19 June 1783 - 20 February 1841) was a German pharmacist and a pioneer of Alkaloid chemistry. He is best known for his discovery of morphine in 1804. Serturner was born to Joseph Simon Serdinner and Marie Therese Brockmann on 19 June 1783, in Neuhaus, North Rhine-Westphalia (now part of Paderborn). After his parents died, he became a pharmacist's apprentice in Paderborn.

Serturner was the first to isolate morphine from opium. He called the isolated alkaloid "morphium" after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus.

The Roman poet Ovid states in his Metamorphoses that Morpheus is a son of Hypnos and reports that he had a thousand siblings, with Morpheus, Phobetor and Phantasos being merely the most prominent among them. Robert Burton, in his 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy, refers to Classical depictions of Morpheus, saying "Philostaratus paints [Morpheus] in a white and black coat, with a horn and ivory box full of dreams, of the same colors, to signify good and bad." Starting in the medieval period, the name Morpheus began to stand generally for the god of dreams or of sleep. In Carl Michael Bellman's Fredman's Epistle No. 72, "Glimmande nymf," Morpheus is invoked as the god of sleep.

He published a comprehensive paper on its isolation, crystallization, crystal structure, and pharmacological properties, which he studied first in stray dogs and then in self-experiments. Morphine was not only the first alkaloid to be extracted from opium, but the first ever alkaloid to be isolated from any plant. Thus, Serturner became the first person to isolate the active ingredient associated with a medicinal plant or herb. The branch of science that he originated has since become known as alkaloid chemistry.

In 1806 Serturner moved to Einbeck, working as a pharmacists' assistant. In 1809, he opened the first pharmacy, which he owned, in Einbeck. He continued to investigate the effects of morphine. After the publication of his paper "Ueber das Morphium als Hauptbestandteil des Opiums" in 1817, his work on morphine became more widely known and morphine became more widely used. In 1822, Serturner bought the main pharmacy in Hamelin (Rathaus Apotheke), where he worked until his death on February 20, 1841. He was buried in Einbeck.

In 1817 Serturner was awarded an honorary doctorate from Jena University. In 1831, Serturner received the Montyon Prize and the title ?Benefactor of Humanity.'

In the 1960s, neurochemist Choh Hao Li at the University of California in San Francisco was investigating the pituitary gland for substances that aided in the metabolism of fat. It was hard to get enough of this substance, though, so he acquired about 500 dried camel pituitaries. But the camels had none of this fat-metaboliser. Li isolated another amino acid substance from the camel pituitary, beta-endorphin, but it didn't play into the questions he was asking and he put it in storage. In 1973, research teams in Sweden, Baltimore, and New York independently found that the brain has special receptors that interact with opiates such as morphine. Strong opiates tended to bind better to these sites than weak ones. This seemed odd. Why would human brains around the world have a receptor for morphine, the product of flowers that originated in the Middle East?

In 1975, John Hughes and Hans Kosterlitz published their discovery of a small amino-acid molecule in the brains of pigs. They called this molecule "enkephalin"(meaning "in the head"). It had some of the qualities of morphine, which helped answer the question of why the brain had receptors for morphine. Hughes thought they might be able to use enkephalin in painkillers that were not as addictive as morphine. They tried this idea out in the lab and were disheartened to find that the reverse was true: The painkilling power was weak, but it was extremely addictive. Back in San Francisco, Li realized that the beta-endorphin he had isolated contained enkephalin. Now he had a question to ask about it: Did it have something to do with pain perception? When Li injected the substance into the brain, he found it was 48 times more powerful than morphine; injected in the vein it was 3 times as powerful. And also addictive. This research allowed neuroscientists to conclude that the brain has receptors for painkillers which the pituitary releases under great stress. If an artificial painkiller such as morphine is given, it occupies more of the pain receptors in the brain; however, less natural painkiller is released. Then, when the artificial source is taken away, there are more empty pain receptors, causing the craving for narcotics and a withdrawal response.

Sources: McGill University; nih.gov; pbs.org; Wikipedia

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