Volume 24, Number 8—August 2018
One hundred years ago, John Brian Christopherson (1868–1955) discovered that antimony potassium tartrate (Figure) was an effective treatment against schistosomiasis. Antimony had been previously used against visceral leishmaniasis, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, and yaws. The ancient Egyptians used antimony paste as mascara. In the Middle Ages, it was used as a laxative, which after swallowing and retrieval, could be reused. Alchemists used it to harden lead.
Its name might have been derived from the Egyptian word for the metal sdm, from which the Greek stimmi, then the Latin stibium, then the French antimoine were derived. A more interesting, but unlikely, origin is that the French antimoine translates as monk’s killer, referring to its toxicity to religious alchemists. Antimony potassium tartrate remained the treatment of choice for schistosomiasis until the development of praziquantel in the 1980s.
- Challoner J. The elements; the new guide to the building blocks of our universe. London: Andre Deutsch Ltd; 2014.
- Christopherson JB. The successful use of antimony in bilharziosis. Lancet. 1918;192:325–7.