alexa Putnam, Merritt, and the discovery of Dilantin.


Organic Chemistry: Current Research

Author(s): Friedlander WJ

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Abstract In the first part of this essay, the "common wisdom" about Putnam and Merritt's contributions to the treatment of epilepsy was summarized (Rowland, 1982). Based on the history that has been presented here, how true are these "wisdoms"? Putnam and Merritt did devise "a simple and reliable method to test drugs of anticonvulsant effect" and they did show "that anticonvulsant effects in cats accurately predicted effects in humans," but others before them had done these same things. Dilantin, contrary to common wisdom, was not the first anticonvulsant drug to be tested in animals before it was given to human subjects; at least a year before, Cobb and his co-workers had done the same thing using vital dyes. However, Dilantin did represent the first time an anticonvulsant tested in animals was subsequently studied in a large series of patients. Nor were Putnam and Merritt the first to show that "anticonvulsant and sedative effects of drugs could be separated." Potassium borotartrate, ketogenic diet, ketone bodies, and vital dyes were anticonvulsive without necessarily being sedative. However, Putnam and Merritt were probably the first to make so explicit a statement to this effect. It may well have been this particular statement--and the fact that it was so well heard by other researchers--that represented their greatest achievement. In Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions, the great step forward may not be so much the accumulation of evidence that the existing paradigm is not a feasible one, but rather the use of this evidence to form a new model or paradigm which is then accepted by normal science in such a fashion that the results prove to be productive. This, it would seem, is what Putnam and Merritt did. From it came their own major discovery, Dilantin, which, in Rowland's words, remains "a mainstay of treatment" for epilepsy up to the present time, and which "opened the way to the development of other anticonvulsant drugs."
This article was published in Epilepsia and referenced in Organic Chemistry: Current Research

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