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10 Scientists Who Were Their Own Guinea Pigs

9

Friedrich Serturner

About 100 years before Sir Head had his radial nerve severed, Friedrich Wilhelm Serturner, a chemist in the German town of Westphalia, became the first to isolate what he thought was the alkaloid that serves as the active ingredient in opium. Following a 52-step process using ammonia to separate the alkaloid, Serturner isolated crystals he dubbed morphine, after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams [source: Altman]. Serturner had good reason to adopt the name for his crystals — he'd experimented with stray dogs in town and the drug had literally put the dogs to sleep. Minutes later, they went to sleep in a much more permanent fashion.

Despite the death of the dogs that were his first test subjects, the barely 20-something Serturner opted to move to human clinical trials, using himself and three 17-year-old friends. The chemist ingested and gave each of his friends a "grain" of morphine equal to about 30 milligrams [source: Cohen]. Serturner handed out another round of grains 30 minutes later, and followed that by another round 15 minutes after that. In less than an hour, Serturner and his friends had ingested 90 milligrams of morphine, 10 times the recommended limit today [source: Altman].

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In short order, it became clear he and his fellow test subjects had overdosed, so Serturner induced vomiting using vinegar. Everyone lived, but at least one friend spent the night in a deep sleep. The chemist's crystals that he used himself to prove turned out to be the leading pain relief drug used still today.

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