Pioneering thinker - then and now: Methylene blue

Heinrich Caro, a German chemist, first synthesized methylene blue in 1876. The French-born scientist Claude Wischik discovered the synthetic dye’s potential as a treatment for Alzheimer’s.

Methylene blue: a synthetic dye of many talents

Methylene blue revealed its medical talent in 1886 when the budding doctor Paul Ehrlich noticed a curious phenomenon during his experiments: methylene blue, a dye recently synthesized by BASF, turned live neurons blue – and had the same effect on plasmodium (the parasite that causes malaria) in human blood. Ehrlich concluded that the dye might be used for selective targeting of malaria in the human body. A few years later, he tested methylene blue as a remedy to treat swamp fever – with success. For the first time ever, Ehrlich cured an infectious disease with a synthetic substance. However, quinine was already established as an antimalarial and the dye vanished into oblivion. That’s how things stayed until malaria started becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs currently in use. Then, several years ago, Professor Dr. Olaf Müller at the University of Heidelberg began looking into the blue dye. He found out that methylene blue is superior to all known antimalarial agents in important properties. In fact, it is probably the most effective drug to inhibit the transmission of infection. BASF is funding the project at the University of Heidelberg.

Pioneering thinker – then and now: catalysis