The Mexican Luis Ernesto Miramontes Cardenas (1925-2004) was the discoverer of the in 1951 of the main ingredient of the first oral contraceptive, when he was only 25 years old. Since he was a little boy, Miramontes showed a remarkable ability for experimentation. When he was in his third year of Chemistry studies at UNAM, as if Miramontes were something like a football star, he was recruited by doctor Sandoval Landazuri, one of his lab teachers, to work with him at the Institute of Chemistry. At that time, experiments were being made to supply the demand of patients suffering from hormone deficiencies. Some of these hormones were then made with ingredients coming from weird places such as pigs’ ovaries (in the case of progesterone), from bull’s testicles (testosterone) or from pregnant mares urine (estrogen). The procedure, besides suspiciously resembling what medieval witches may have used, it was very costly and inefficient. Therefore, it became necessary to find better alternatives to synthesize hormones. And there was Miramontes, among others, to succeed.
He discovered an anovulatory ingredient when isolating norethisterone crystals
How did he do it? Thanks to Syntex support, a lab founded by Russell Marker, who made available to him state of the art technology necessary to produce hormones from an abundant supply of raw substances. Actually, Miramontes was searching for an antiabortion medication, but by accident he isolated crystals of a compound that turned out to be anti-ovulatory. Dr. Gregory Pincus, through the use of this discovery was the one who finally developed the contraceptive pill. A pill that was called Enovid and was tested first in animals, such as rabbitts, dogs and gorillas, and later in thousands of women in Puerto Rico, Haiti and the United States. The Food and Drug Administration approved its use in 1960. How does it work? Thanks to noretisterona – if you were able to spell it, congratulations. Miramontes could not only spell it, but he discovered that it disrupted the reproductive machinery of women. That is why it became the active ingredient of the contraceptive pill. When a woman takes one of these pills, it tells her brain that the body does not need any more hormones for the ovaries to stop ovulating, thus breaking the monthly reproductive cycle. The pill on three occasions was nominated as one of the most important inventions of the last 2000 years. Its level of effectiveness is 99% and today the unwanted secondary effects are practically none, which has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to state that oral contraceptives can be taken for life, without interruptions.