Ophthalmologist Who Developed Medical Botox Dies at 89

Marcia Frellick

December 20, 2021

The ophthalmologist credited with developing botulinum toxin (Botox) for medical use has died at the age of 89, his family confirmed to National Public Radio.

Four decades ago, Alan Brown Scott, a native of Berkeley, California, turned the drug, once a deadly poison, into a revolutionary treatment for obscure eye diseases. It later became a well-known blockbuster treatment for reducing the appearance of wrinkles and treating hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). Other approved medical uses include treatment of overactive bladder and urinary incontinence.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, its popularity for cosmetic use was boosted further during the pandemic and it was the number-one minimally invasive cosmetic procedure performed in 2020. Among the 13.3 million procedures, 4.4 million involved Botox.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Ed Schantz, who was working in the military's biological weapons program, was the one to first send the toxin to Scott, who wanted to explore its properties for medical use.

The same Bloomberg article also noted that the original botulinum toxin itself "is so powerful that a tiny amount can suffocate a person by paralyzing the muscles used for breathing."

Scott was looking for a way to help his patients avoid extensive surgeries.

"Specifically, he was aiming to treat people with strabismus, or cross-eyes, and blepharospasm, which is an uncontrollable closure of eyes. Today, it's also used as a treatment to help with migraines, hair loss, and drooling," NPR reports.

The New York Times once described Botox as "medicine's answer to duct tape."

Scott was the executive director of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco when he did his pioneering research with botulinum toxin in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a 2002 article in SFGate.

In 1991, Scott sold the drug to Allergan, when it was called Oculinum. The next year, the name was officially changed to Botox.

In 2002, Scott told SFGate, when asked about the more popular use for the drug, "I think that's a charming, slightly frivolous use," adding, "but it's not along the lines of what I was into, applications for serious disorders."

According to Scientific American in 2016, Scott, then age 83, kept working on the noncosmetic benefits of botulism-toxin injections for eye-related disorders at the Strabismus Research Foundation,

He told Scientific American he was proud that his efforts "are directly helpful to people."

"There are interesting and difficult problems still to be solved, and I'm a practicing physician and I see them every day," he said.

Scott's daughter, Ann Scott, told NPR, "He definitely loved his work and he was also a really great father." She said her dad involved his children in his research and work.

She added, "He was a really calm, more of a quiet reserved person," and said he was committed to teaching his students, many of them international students.

"That was what he really loved," she said.

Scott, who died Thursday, was in intensive care for the last 10 days from an unspecified illness, his daughter told NPR.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and Nurse.com, and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick

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