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The Magic Molecule: that has improved the lives of millions
Linköping University.
2015 (English)Book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Millions of people all over the world are granted better vision thanks to a seemingly magic molecule. The molecule makes it possible to remove the eye’s lens and replace it with an artificial one. Cataracts are the cause of most lens replacements. The disease clouds the lens which in turn blurs vision. Until the early 1980’s, lens transplants were a very complicated affair, so much so that many eye surgeons avoided the procedure altogether. The revolutionary events that have taken place since, now allow surgeons to perform a lens transplant in less than 15 minutes, the results of which are successful nearly every single time. This medical breakthrough was made possible by the magic molecule described in this book.

The same molecule has also helped to ease ailing knees affected by arthritis. Despite the controversial nature of the molecule’s use in treating arthritis, the fact remains that many of the millions of people treated yearly report significant relief as a result. Furthermore, the molecule’s use in treating joints is not limited to those of humans, but also includes horses. Then working as product manager for the Swedish pharmaceutical company Pharmacia, I was personally involved in introducing Healonid® Vet., a product based on the magic molecule, into the French equestrian market some forty years ago.

As if eyes, knees and horses were not enough, the magic molecule has even revolutionized the global beauty industry during the past twenty years. Commonly used as the main ingredient in dermal fillers, the molecule has enabled many of the most successful wrinkle reducing products developed by world leading companies.

The magic molecule I speak of is a sugar molecule called hyaluronic acid. The modern term for the molecule is hyaluronan, often shortened HA. For the purposes of this book, the term hyaluronic acid will be used, since this is still the term most frequently used. Hyaluronic acid is found in a number of areas within the human body. In the human skin, hyaluronic acid works as a moisturizing and filling agent. In the human joint it acts as a lubricant and shock absorber. It is also found in the eye and the umbilical cord. Hyaluronic acid is also found in sources outside the human body. The hyaluronic acid described in this book originates from rooster combs or synthetically, through a process of bacterial fermentation.

Hyaluronic acid was discovered in 1934 by Karl Meyer and John Palmer, researchers at Columbia University. A Hungarian researcher by the name of Endre Balazs was the first to develop hyaluronic acid for commercial use. In 1943, Balazs received a patent for a method using fluid from knee joints of cows to be used as an egg white substitute in baking. The product itself was not very successful, but Balazs was inspired to search for other commercial uses for hyaluronic acid. In particular, he was eager to discover medical benefits of its use. Endre Balazs is still driven by this eagerness, at 95 years of age. Throughout his career, he has successfully transformed research into practical benefit to an extent that most researchers only dream of.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2015. , 221 p.
National Category
Economic History
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-117294ISBN: 978-91-7519-076-1OAI: diva2:807193
Available from: 2015-04-23 Created: 2015-04-23 Last updated: 2015-05-11

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