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Charles Suckling

Charles Suckling is a British chemist who first synthesised the anaesthetic gas halothane when working at the ICI Central Laboratory in Widnes in the 1950s.

At the time of Suckling's original research, the main anaesthetic gases in use were chloroform and ether, both of which had several serious drawbacks. Ether was highly flammable, which was particularly dangerous in operating theatres as electrical equipment such as diathermy became more common. Chloroform was toxic to the liver.

The fluorinated hydrocarbons were a promising group of compounds which were non-flammable and yet volatile. Suckling had worked on such compounds extensively during the Second World War, and synthesised a variety of fluorinated hydrocarbons before evaluating them for anaesthetic properties.

He liaised closely with clinicians, initially in setting target physicochemical properties for ideal agents and then later in evaluating the developed compounds.

Suckling first investigated halothane's anaesthetic action by experimenting on meal worms and houseflies, and then forwarded it to Jaume Raventos, a pharmacologist, for evaluation of anaesthesia in other animals. After Raventos established its pharmacological properties, it was given to Dr Michael Johnstone, an anaesthetist in Manchester, England, who recognised its great advantages over the other anaesthetics available and established its first clinical trial in 1956.

This process of systematic study of chemical compounds with a set of pre-defined characteristics has been identified as one of the first examples of 'drug design'.


Suckling, C. W. Some chemical and physical factors in the development of fluothane. Br J Anaesth. 1957 Oct;29(10):466-72.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Charles_Suckling". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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