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Dan Medicinhist Arbog. 2014;42:99-119.

[On the history of vitamin K, dicoumarol and warfarin].

[Article in Danish]


The history of the discovery and development of vitamin K and its antagonists, the oral anticoagulants dicoumarol and warfarin, are fascinating, triumphant landmarks in the annals of medicine. Vitamin K was found by Carl Peter Henrik Dam and Fritz Schønheyder from the University of Copenhagen. The discovery was initiated by Dam, by a lucky choice of chicks in the dissertation of sterol metabolism, since the vitamin is not formed by intestinal bacteria in these animals. In these experiments the lack of an unknown factor in the synthetic diet caused internal bleeding similar to that found in scurvy, but the bleeding was not reversed by vitamin C and it could not be explained by the lack of classical vitamins. In 1935 the unknown antihaemorrhagic factor was named vitamin K and a few months later the phenomenon was also observed by H.J. Almquist and E.L.R. Stokstad in Berkeley. The activity of the factor was determined by bioassay in different extracts of green vegetables and alfalfa by Dam and Schønheyder. Vitamin K was isolated in 1939 by Dam and Paul Karrer in Zurich and the structure was determined by Edward Adelbert Doisy. Dam and Doisy were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1943. A dramatic story starts the discovery of dicoumarol. In the 1920s cattle in Canada began dying of internal bleeding with no obvious precipitating cause. Frank W. Schofield, a veterinary pathologist in Alberta, found that the mysterious disease was connected to the consumption of spoiled sweet clover hay and noted a prolonged clotting time. Ten years after a farmer traveled in a blizzard with his dead cow and a milk can of the unclotted blood to the University of Wisconsin. Only the door to the biochemical department of Karl Paul Link was open. This event started the isolation of the anticoagulant agent dicou- marol which was formed by microbial induced oxidation of coumarin in the mouldy sweet clover hay. More than hundred dicoumarol-like anticoagulants were synthesized by Link and his co-workers. A potent hemorrhagic agent named warfarin was first used as an effective rat poison. However, warfarin became the drug of choice and the break- through in the treatment of thromboembolic diseases. Today new oral anticoagulants are competing with warfarin.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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