Dioscorea mexicana, Mexican yam, barbasco de placa by Wikimedia commons
Russell Marker and the Origin of Bioidentical Hormones
by Jeffrey Dach MD Link to original article
Where do Hormones Come From ?
A couple of times a week, I get the question, "Where do hormones
comes from?" They were originated by Russell E Marker, a chemist who made progesterone from the plant steroid called Diosgenin.
Who was Russell Marker ?
Russell Marker was a Penn State chemist in 1938 who invented a practical way to mass produce progesterone, a bioidentical hormone. using a technique known as the Marker degradation process.
In 1938, Marker was a chemistry professor at Pennsylvania State College. While working on plant-steroid chemistry, Marker found a plant steroid from the Dioscorea family called Diosgenin, which could be easily converted into the bioidentical hormone, progesterone. Next, Marker needed an economical source of the plant material to isolate the plant steroid called Diosgenin.
Finding the Plant Material in Mexico
In November 1941, Marker found what he had been searching for in a
botany textbook describing a Dioscorea plant indigenous to Veracruz in
Mexico, called Cabeza de Negro.
In 1942, Marker then traveled to Mexico, where he purchased some of
the Dioscorea plant material and started the mass production of
In 1943, Marker resigned from Penn State University and moved to Mexico to begin mass production of progesterone and other bioidentical hormones. Marker refused to assign patent rights to anyone, granting free and open use of his invention to the general public.
In early 1944, Syntex was formed in Mexico to manufacture progesterone from Diosgenin. In May 1945, Marker left Syntex and started a new company, Botanica-mex, near Mexico City, which then made several kilograms of progesterone. Botanica-mex folded in March 1946 and was restarted as a new company called HormonoSynth. During this time, the cabeza de negro plant source for Diosgenin was replaced by the barbasco plant, containing 500% more Diosgenin. After Marker's retirement, the company was again reorganized as Diosynth.Syntex After Marker Leaves -- Syntex Prospers
After Marker left Syntex in October 1945, the company recruited a replacement chemist, George Rosenkranz, and Syntex was again selling progesterone. In addition to extending the chemical process to the production of testosterone and other bioidentical hormones, Rosenkranz also built a research program at Syntex, and recruited other Ph.D. chemists including Carl Djerassi and Alejandro Zaffaroni.
Cortisone and the "Pill"
Further research at Syntex led to discovery that this same p lant-steroid precusor Diosgenin could be converted to cortisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory steroid. They also worked on the first synthetic birth-control pills. By the 1950s, Syntex and its competitors were the major supplier of sex hormones to the United States.
Health Benefits of Diosgenin