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Alan Scott, the doctor credited with developing Botox for medicine, dies at 89

Alan B. Scott pictured with his wife Ruth in 1960. Scott is credited with developing Botox for medical treatments.
Ann Scott
Alan B. Scott pictured with his wife Ruth in 1960. Scott is credited with developing Botox for medical treatments.

Alan Brown Scott, the ophthalmologist credited with developing the drug Botox for medical use, died at the age of 89 on Thursday, his family confirmed to NPR.

Scott, a Berkeley, Calif., native, was suffering from an acute illness for 10 days and was in the intensive care unit, his daughter Ann Scott said.

"He definitely loved his work and he was also a really great father," Ann Scott said, saying her father often involved his kids in his research and work.

Botox, which is derived from what is known as one of the deadliest toxins, was not originally discovered for medical use. It was actually first being developed by Ed Schantz, who was working in the military's biological weapons program. Schantz was the one to first send the toxin to Scott, who wanted to use it for medical purposes.

Scott was looking for a way to help his patients with eye disorders so they wouldn't have to go through extensive surgeries and thought the chemical could help. Specifically, he was aiming to treat people with strabismus, or cross-eyes, and blepharospasm, which is an uncontrollable closure of eyes. Today, it's also used as a treatment to help with migraines, hair loss and drooling.

What Botox is now more commonly known for — smoothing down wrinkles for cosmetic purposes — was not on his agenda.

"I think that's a charming, slightly frivolous use," Scott told SF Gate in 2002 on how Botox is used by celebrities. "But it's not along the lines of what I was into, applications for serious disorders."

In 1991, Scott sold the drug to the company Allergan; it was called Oculinum, but the next year the name of the drug was officially changed to Botox. In 2020, 4.4 million cosmetic Botox procedures were performed in the U.S.

In the same interview with SF Gate, Scott reflected on his discovery and how widespread the drug now is.

"Life's a mystery. It's dazzling, all the things that happen," he said.

His daughter Ann said outside of his medical work he enjoyed "anything intellectually stimulating."

"He was a really calm, more of a quiet reserved person," Scott said of her father, "Growing up he studied the classics, really liked word play."

Scott says her father was committed to teaching his students, many of whom were international students.

"That was what he really loved," she said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.