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J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv. 2010 Oct;48(10):9-12. doi: 10.3928/02793695-20100903-01. Epub 2010 Sep 22.

Serendipity and psychopharmacology.

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University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


This article describes several examples where the development of drugs and devices for use in psychiatry followed from initial serendipitous observations. The potential psychotropic properties of chlorpromazine (Thorazine(®)) were first noted in surgical patients when the drug was being investigated as a potentiator of anesthesia. Similar findings were noted with iproniazid (Marsilid(®)), developed for the treatment of tuberculosis, and the drug was later released for clinical use as an antidepressant agent. The development of meprobamate (Miltown(®)), an approved treatment for anxiety, evolved from initial efforts to find a chemical that would inhibit the enzymatic destruction of the antibiotic drug penicillin. The psychiatric uses of lamotrigine (Lamictal(®)) and vagus nerve stimulation were prompted by initial observations that epilepsy patients receiving these treatments had positive mood effects. Nurses should be familiar with the concept of serendipity, as they often are in the best position to observe, record, and report on unexpected clinical effects in patients taking any kind of prescription or nonprescription medication.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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