October 30, 2012

History of the Discovery of Folic Acid

Lucy Wills:

Although it was of course not named as such at the time, the discovery of Folic Acid dates back to the work of Lucy Wills, a Consultant Pathologist at the Royal Free Hospital in London.  Whilst working in India in the 1920s and 30s Wills discovered that the addition of yeast or its extract corrected a type of anaemia in pregnancy called "macrocytic" anaemia. (We will come across the term "macrocytic" again in future blogs. It literally means "large cells".)

Wills Factor:

This yeast extract was originally called "Wills Factor". However, it was later recognised as being Folic Acid, and officially received its name some years later, following its isolation from spinach (from the Latin ‘folium’ meaning leaf).

Folic Acid:

After the chemical synthesis of Folic Acid in 1945 it became apparent that it could also be used to treat other types of macrocytic anaemia, but especially those that proved refractory to liver preparations such as the macrocytic anaemia of tropical sprue and coeliac disease.

Although it was temporarily effective in curing Addisonian Pernicious Anaemia (see our previous History of Vitamin B12), it soon became apparent that, unlike vitamin B12, it did not improve the associated nerve damage seen in this disease.

Make sure to check back soon for our next Blog, about the History of the Discovery of Vitamin B6.

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