Amongst the Medical Collections in the HSTM Museum is a small cardboard box which contains a dozen very small glass vials, 3 tiny blades and a piece of paper addressed to “The medical professional”. These vials contain shots of the “extract of the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland” or “Pituitrin” to use its trade name.
Pituitrin was registered as a trade name in 1908 by Parke, Davis & Co. an American drugs company based in Detroit, Michegan. Parke, Davis and Co. was one of America’s oldest pharmaceutical companies, founded in 1867 and adopting the name “Parke, Davis and Co.” in 1871. Parke, Davis and Co. was one of (if not the first) companies in the United States to have a dedicated pharmaceutical research laboratory building . The company continued to operate until 1970 when it was bought by Warner-Lambert, it was then acquired by Pfizer in 2000.
Although registered to Parke, Davis and Co. this particular sample of Putuitrin was manufactured in Middlesex on 15 September 1948 with a use by date of 14 September 1950. It is a “Physiologically Standard” sample of “One dozen ‘Glaeptic’ Ampoules. 0.5cc (5 International Oxytocic Units)”. Interestingly the blades in the box are not mentioned on the packaging, but are presumably to remove the glass seal before the patient was given a deep intramuscular injection of Pituitrin (by a medical professional).
The Accompanying leaflet tells us that:
“‘Pituitrin’ contracts the arteries and arterioles and causes an increase in blood pressure that is accompanied by slowing of the pulse. If is of value for raising the blood-pressure in the treatment of patients suffering from shock and acute illness.
Owing to its stimulating effect upon atonic non-striated muscle, ‘Pituitrin’ is employed in cases of uterine inertia, ischuria paradoxa, the ischuria of labour, intestinal distension after abdominal operations, and to disperse gas in the colon before radiography. ‘Pituitrin relieves many cases of urinary tension following labour or gynaecological operations; it is also useful in cases of enuresis due to atony of the sphincter of the bladder. In cases of diabetes insipidus, the subcutaneous injection of ‘Pituitrin’ has greatly diminished the polyuria. ‘Pituitrin’ is the product of choice in the control of post-partum Haemorrhage.”
Extract of the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland contains, according to a Dr. O. Leyton, at least two useful hormones; oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is in Pituitrin and effects the abdomen and uterus, but not blood vessels. Vasopressin affects blood vessels and thus increases blood pressure but has no effect on the uterus . The most common use of extract of the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland was Oxytocin particularly in post-partum (post natal) haemorrhaging as suggested by the accompanying note to our sample, it was particularly useful following a caesarean section. Oxytocin could also be used to induce contractions during labour. This box of Pituitrin-Oxytocin probably belonged to a midwife or the midwifery department here at Leeds.
Although the brand name “Pituitrin” is no longer used a synthetic version of Oxytocin called “Syntocinon” in still used in difficult births. The hormone is the subject of much research as it appears to be hugely influential in human interactions and responses; research includes oxytocin’s effects on child birth, parental bonding, romantic attachment, sexual-arousal, interaction with addictive drugs, memory, trust and autism.
The Pituitrin is currently in the Philosophy Foyer in the Michael Sadler Building as part of the new display “Liquid Remedies; drugs, dosages and delivery”.