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By Charles Hopkins Published 06/2/2006 | Beauty

If youve read the Robin Cook thriller Vector, youll probably remember that the mad cab driver Yuri Davydov hatches a plan to unleash two lethal biological weapons on New York. One of them is a bacterium known as clostridium botulinum. The other is anthrax. In fact, a character in the book meets with a slow, gasping death from fatal food poisoning after eating ice cream that Yuri has laced with botulinum.

Not pleasant, is it? So how is it that Botox, the wonder drug that smoothens wrinkled brows and effectively blocks excessive underarm perspiration, is derived from clostridium botulinum? In fact, Botox, a brand name for botulinum toxin type A, is part of an entire family of drugs known as botulinum toxins, and is manufactured under the registered trademark by the California-based pharmaceutical company Allergan Inc.

Today, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved Botox for use in both medical and cosmetic spheres. However, as early as 1895, German scientist Emile Van Ermengem isolated the bacterium we know as clostridium botulinum. In 1944, Edward Schantz further cultured clostridium botulinum and detached the toxin, and in 1949, another group of researchers discovered that botulinum toxin blocks neuromuscular transmissions. In the 1950s, botulinum toxin was used experimentally in the medical-cosmetic treatment of politicians and former US President Ronald Reagan was apparently one of the earliest recipients of this treatment! 

Come 1980, and Dr Alan B. Scott used botulinum toxin type A in the treatment of strabismus, a condition in which the eyes look in different directions. You may perhaps know it as a squint. However, it was not until 1989 that the FDA approved the use of Botox in the treatment of strabismus, blepharospasm (involuntary and uncontrollable twitching of eyelids) and hemi-facial spasms. In 2002, the FDA further approved the use of Botox in a non-surgical cosmetic sphere the removal of frown (glabellar) lines between the eyebrows, and in 2004, Botox was approved for use in the treatment of underarm sweating (axillary hyperhidrosis). In between, in 2000, the FDA also approved the use of botulinum toxin type B in the treatment of cervical dystonia (uncontrollable muscle movement in the neck and adjoining areas).

How does Botox work, exactly? In simple terms, it is injected into the part of the body that requires treatment, and it paralyzes the muscles in that area. See, for muscles to function normally, they must receive the right neural signals from the brain. These signals are transmitted to various parts of the body through a chemical messenger called acetylcholine. Above-average production of acetylcholine causes muscles to twitch and jerk, and so you have a problem. What Botox does is block the release of acetylcholine, which stops or reduces the involuntary muscle movements in a particular area.

So these are the prime areas in which Botox is used. However, the Botox used to smooth frown lines is a derivative called Botox Cosmetic, a protein produced by clostridium botulinum bacterium and therefore not to be confused with regular Botox. The effects of treatment with Botox Cosmetic may last from four to six months, after which the dose needs to be repeated, but the manufacturer does not advise a repeat treatment less than four months after the first. Botox Cosmetic is injected directly into the muscles that cause frown lines and the process takes only a few minutes with no recovery period required.

However, you need to ensure that you are eligible to receive Botox before you actually do so. It is particularly not recommended for those with a nervous disease, pregnant and nursing women, and cardiac patients. Additionally, your physician must have a complete list of medications that you may be on before he administers you with Botox. Finally, remember that Botox is a treatment rather than a cure, and it will not cause a permanent reversal in your condition, so dont expect the earth!