Intended for healthcare professionals

Monk's moments: An uncomfortable truth

Dapsone is an unusual drug, with a range of indications from leprosy to vasculitis. Yet, it has an even more unusual history. Dapsone (diaminodiphenylsulfone) was first synthesised in 1908, but it was many years before its therapeutic potential was recognised. During the Second World War, Germany found itself at a significant disadvantage in lacking access to the newly discovered penicillin, which was available to the British and US troops. Much effort was directed into investigating derivatives of the early sulphonamide preparations, which had much weaker antibacterial effect. Josef Vonkennel was a leading dermatologist in Leipzig, an ardent Nazi and adviser on dermatology to the Schutzstaffel (SS). He established a research centre at Buchenwald concentration camp and began experimenting with the effects of dapsone on experimentally induced poison gas burns in inmates. His studies did indeed show that the agent had some therapeutic effects, albeit at the expense of the lives of many of his hapless victims.
Dermatology in practice 2013; 19(3): 18–18
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