Who Invented Aspirin?

Aspirin is considered by WHO to be "essential medicine".
Aspirin is considered by WHO to be "essential medicine".

Aspirin is a drug that is used to treat pain, inflammation, or fever, and also decreases the risk of death if administered immediately after a heart attack. The medication can be used to prevent further heart attacks, blood clots, and decreases the chance of developing certain types of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Aspirin is one of the most commonly researched drugs in the world today, with over 700 clinical trials conducted each year. It is also one of the world's most popular drugs, as approximately 44,000 tons or at least 50 million pills are consumed annually. The drug is included on the World Health Organization's (WHO) List of Essential Medicines.

History of Aspirin

Medicines derived from the bark of the willow tree and other salicylate-rich trees have been used since classical antiquity. For example, such medicines are referenced on clay tablets from ancient Sumer, Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt, and were used in ancient Greece by Hippocrates to reduce fever. In the 18th century, extract from willow bark was particularly recognized for its effect on pain, fever, and inflammation, and by the 19th century, pharmacists were prescribing chemicals related to salicin, which is an active component of willow bark. In 1853, acetylsalicylic acid (ADA) was produced for the first time by French chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt by treating acetyl chloride with sodium salicylate. In 1897, several scientists working for the German drug company Bayer began exploring acetylsalicylic acid as a less irritating replacement for common salicylate medicines. That same year, German chemist Felix Hoffmann discovered that adding an acetyl group to salicylic medicines made them less irritating. Bayer patented this re-synthesizing process process.

Inventor of Aspirin: Felix Hoffmann

Felix Hoffmann was a German chemist who was born in Ludwigsburg in 1868. Hoffmann began studying chemistry at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in 1889, and completed the pharmaceutical state exam in 1890. In 1893, he earned his doctorate after completing his thesis which was entitled "On certain derivatives of dihydroanthracene," and began working as a chemist at Bayer in 1894. On August 10, 1897, while working under the supervision of Arthur Eichengrun, Hoffmann successfully synthesized acetylsalicylic acid. As a result, Hoffman is often credited for inventing aspirin, and was named as the inventor on the US patent, although is unclear if he made the discovery himself or if it was made based on Arthur Eichengrun's instruction.

Naming the Drug

Two years after the discovery of the drug, Bayer named acetylsalicylic acid Aspirin. It is unclear exactly who came up with the name Aspirin, but it is believed to be derived from the German name for ASA, Acetylspirsäure. The letter "A" was obtained from acetylation, "-spri" from Spirsäure, which is the German name for the meadowsweet plant that is the source of salicin, and "-in" was a commonly used suffix in most drug names at the time. In 1950, Aspirin was listed by the Guinness World Records as the most popular painkiller in the world.

How Aspirin Works

Aspirin can reduce inflammation, relieve pain, prevent clotting, and reduce fever. It works by suppressing the production of thromboxanes and prostaglandin through inactivation of COX enzymes. Through acetylation, Aspirin irreversibly inactivates both COX-1 and COX-2. Normally, COX enzymes produce thromboxane, which aids in clotting, and prostaglandin, which is pro-inflammatory. When prostaglandin hormones are suppressed, they do not send pain information to the brain.


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