In medical history, it seems like vitamin C wasn’t even considered a vitamin to begin with. This is the case of several discoveries and the problem of many scientists: they head off to unravel one mystery and end up solving another. A specific example of this nature is given by Albert Imre Szent-Györgyi (1893-1986), a Hungarian doctor, and his finding.
“In medical history, it seems like vitamin C wasn’t even considered a vitamin to begin with. This is the case of several discoveries and the problem of many scientists: they head off to unravel one mystery and end up solving another.”
Szent-Györgyi started his career in his uncle’s laboratory, „at the wrong end” of science, as he would say, because of the research task imposed by his uncle: the anatomy of the human rectum. However, this didn’t throw him off his own course of study: hexuronic acid, something that he initially considered an adrenal hormone. An important note here would be that the name was not given by Szent-Györgyi, but by an exasperated editor (from the Biochemical Journal) that had to deal with his humour and cluelessness on how to name the compound. The alternatives given by the doctor were Ignose (lat. ignoseo – „I don’t know”) and Godnose.
In the context of his medical education, Saint Georgie (nickname given by his American friends) arrived at the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, where he managed to crystallize around 30 milligrams of hexuronic acid. To his disappointment, the compound proved to have no effect on animals that had their adrenal glands removed. This brought his research to a dead end.
In 1928, several years later, back in Hungary, and more exactly in Szeged, he met a newcomer to the laboratory that was set up there and discussed different aspects regarding experiments that were under research in Europe and in America as well. Joseph Sverbely, his new colleague, which was acquainted with the efforts of the Americans to extract and produce vitamin C, suggested to Szent-Györgyi to use whatever he had left of his hexuronic acid and observe if it has anti-scorbutic properties. Through a simple experiment (differentiated diets for guinea pigs), they remarked that the hexuronic acid and vitamin C were actually the same thing.
Albert Szent-Györgyi won the Nobel Prize in 1937 for his discovery after a very troublesome journey towards glory and recognition.
R.F.I. Source: Winters, Robert. Accidental Medical Discoveries: Tales of Tenacity, Sagacity, and Plain Dumb Luck, Denmark, 2013, pp.131-139