Copper: Quest for a Cure

Indexed in: Scopus

This is the story of how Wilson’s disease, a previously rare and fatal inherited disease, was conquered by a series of individual discoveries, leading to highly effective treatments. It also ...
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A New Beginning

Pp. 14-23 (10)

John Walshe

Abstract

Having been appointed Assistant Director of Research to Professor McCance in Cambridge I needed to find somewhere to live and to decide upon a line of research in keeping with the facilities available.. Shortly after taking up this new post I was invited, by the British Council, to undertake a lecture tour in South America. On returning from this I succeeded in establishing the methods I needed to estimate abnormalities of copper metabolism and to recruit patients for my studies. I also continued my work with Sydney Osborn, a medical physicist, and we improved our methods of determining the movement of copper in the body using a short half life radioactive isotope of copper.

Whilst the results of treatment with penicillamine were very encouraging I encountered the problem of a patient developing a severe toxic reaction to the drug. A University biochemist, Dr Hal Dixon, suggested I use triethylenetetramine, a known copper binding compound and this proved safe and effective. For several years we produced this in my laboratory to treat a small number of penicillamine intolerant patients. We also found that an impurity in this compound could induced a disastrous fall in blood pressure. During the course of these studies we moved premises twice, first temporary war time huts in Canhams yard and then the old Low Temperature Research building in the Downing Street site. During this time I also had trouble with the Ministry of Health over the question of prescription charges for my patients.

Affiliation:

University of Cambridge, UK.