Popular Science
(December 1932)

"Mystery Rays That Cure Disease"


Alden P. Armagnac

A middle-aged man walked into a New York surgeon's office for examination of a wound, a few months ago. For a whole year following an operation, the wound had failed to heal. Repeated treatments by practically every method known to medical science had failed. This time, the surgeon's manner after examination conveyed no optimism.

The most he could do, he said, was to send the patient back to the hospital for an attempt at a cure by another operation. "Except --- there's just a chance  ---" His eyes, glancing idly about the room, happened to fall upon a test tube hanging on a curtain.

He unhooked the test tube, and emptied its jelly-like contents into a surgical syringe. Despite difficulties in handling, the warm jelly was applied to the wound and covered with gauze.

Five days later the man returned. "Doctor", he said, "I think my wound has closed". It had. By some apparent miracle, a test tube of ordinary petroleum jelly, taken on the vaguest chance from in front of an ultraviolet lamp where the surgeon had been using its natural fluorescence to test the strength of the rays, had succeeded where the best remedies known to medicine had failed.

It was thus that Dr Eugene H. Eising, New York surgeon, discovered an entirely new kind of healing agent. This irradiated petrolatum, or rayed petroleum jelly, has strange attributes. Its action combines a general healing effect and a positive germ-killing quality, the latter effect differing from standard antiseptics in being a prolonged, rather than an instantaneous, action. Strangest of all, the preparation's curative power seems to depend upon an invisible mystery ray that comes from the jelly, a phenomenon demonstrated by the ray's ability to fog a photographic plate in total darkness.

Even though the working of the mysterious jelly is not fully understood, it is considered of great importance to the public. A large manufacturer of pharmaceutical preparations is compounding it already under the name of "radolatum" --- short for irradiated petrolatum --- and at this writing it is available to physicians. Now plans are being made to introduce it to the general public, and drug stores may have it on their shelves by the time this appears in print. Radolatum eventually may become a standard remedy in every household medicine cabinet. Tests in some of the country's foremost clinics show its amazing versatility and effectiveness in treating such everyday ailments as burns, scalds, boils, and sunburn, in addition to more serious surgical cases.

If such everyday wonders as X-ray tubes and ultra-violet lamps still impress the layman, what is one to say of Dr Eising's preparation and its mystery rays? Or of a newly-announced process that physicians may soon be using to fight cancer, in which ultraviolet rays are generated deep inside the human body? Or again, of strange invisible rays for which no use has yet been found, such as come from the wings of butterflies and print their image upon a photographic plate? Here are vivid examples that, so far, we have only scratched the surface of a whole mysterious range of radiations, and that new wonders may follow their harnessing.

As a start in learning of the latest ray discoveries, I went to Dr Eising's laboratory to obtain the first-hand story of his mystery rays.

In a curtained-off corner of his laboratory stands a large ultraviolet lamp used for treating patients. With such a lamp, Dr Eising explained, it is customary to use an indicator showing the strength of the rays. Such indicators usually consist of a small transparent capsule enclosing chemicals that, under ultraviolet radiation, glow with brilliant blue or green light. Sometimes the capsules break and must be replaced. Dr Eising discovered that a test tube of ordinary petroleum jelly --- which fluoresces with a blue glow under the rays --- made a satisfactory indicator, when hung on a curtain near the lamp.

It was this tube of jelly that Dr Eising took from the curtain, where it had hung before the lamp for hours, to treat his difficult patient. Whatever lucky inspiration moved him to do it, he realized he had made an important discovery when the same preparation worked with signal success upon other patients. Then he began to search for the explanation of its amazing healing power.

At first, he thought it might be due to vitamins, formed in the petrolatum by the ultraviolet rays of the lamp. He discarded this theory when he found that ordinary petrolatum, artificially impregnated with vitamins, had no such powers.

"After fumbling around for a while", Dr Eising says,  "it occurred to me to place some of my irradiated petrolatum with a photographic plate in a light-tight box". He cut a design in a cardboard stencil, placed the stencil between a photographic plate and a dish of the rayed jelly in a darkroom, and then left the combination overnight in a box from which all light was excluded. When he removed and developed the plate, the result was startling. The plate bore a perfect image of the stencil, as plainly as if printed upon the sensitive emulsion by a powerful lamp.

Ordinary petroleum jelly, not irradiated, has no such power. By exposing different batches of jelly to his lamp under variously colored glass and testing them, Dr Eising tried to identify the light that gave petroleum jelly its remarkable power. The new type of light is present in normal sunlight, but is available in more concentrated form in artificial lamps.

Evidently exposure to this light gave petroleum jelly the power of emitting some mysterious, invisible ray that affects a photographic plate in total darkness. New tests showed that the curative power of the jelly and the emission of the mystery ray seem to go hand in hand. Inescapable was the inference that the ray is partly or wholly responsible for the healing result. What could be the nature of the ray?

Could it be that the jelly re-emitted ultraviolet rays after exposure? If so, the rays should behave light like rays, and pass readily through transparent pieces of quartz and film. Dr Eising found the rays actually did pass through a protective layer of celluloid film and affect one of his plates, but in the crucial test they failed to penetrate thin plates of transparent quartz. Moreover, he found he could keep the mysterious emanation from affecting a plate by blowing a gentle stream of air between jelly and plate during exposure. Conversely, when he led the emanation from a flask of warmed, irradiated jelly through a glass tube to a plate, it left a dense black smudge on the developed plate. These tests suggest that the emanation may partake both of the nature of a radiation and a vapor.

US Patent # 1,919,055

Therapeutic Agent

( July 18, 1933 )

Eugene H. Eising

This invention relates to therapeutic agents, and includes among its object the provision of (a) therapeutic agents characterized by a high degree of activity in promoting the healing of damaged and/or infected tissue, (b) a method whereby such therapeutic agents may be prepared from certain inert substances, and (c) a method of promoting the healing of damaged and/or infected tissue.

In the practice of this invention, unrefined petroleum products --- especially petrolatum and liquid petrolatum --- are therapeutically activated by exposure to ultraviolet irradiation. As employed herein, "unrefined petroleum products" means petroleum products containing one or more natural "impurities", i.e., substances other than hydrocarbons; and "petrolatum" and "liquid petrolatum" mean petrolatum and liquid petrolatum respectively, unrefined in the same sense. It is to the presence of these "impurities" (the chemical identity of which has not been determined) that the unrefined petroleum products owe their activability. Since it generally accompanies such "impurities", fluorescence of the unradiated petroleum products may ordinarily be regarded as an index of activity.

At first, activity increases more or less directly as the amount of irradiation, but after a while a maximum is reached and further irradiation causes a gradual diminution and then a complete loss of activity; and ultimately the product becomes a tissue irritant if radiation is protracted until it is sufficient --- in duration and intensity --- to bring about the defluorescence of fluorescent petroleum oils. Irradiation must therefore be discontinued short of the final stages mentioned.

Though fluorescence has occurred repeatedly in association with the property of activability in unirradiated petroleum products and of activity in irradiated petroleum products, there is no evidence that this correlation or concomitance is a necessary condition; on the contrary, it is believed that the fluorescence on the one hand, and the activability and activity on the other, are mutually independent and disassociable phenomena, so that it may be possible to eliminate the fluorescence without qualitatively or quantitatively affecting either the activability or the activity. In short, the exhibition of fluorescence may be considered a convenient or temporary, but not an absolute or permanent criterion.

By such irradiation, unrefined petroleum products are transformed into therapeutic agents capable, on being applied to the affected parts, of exercising a remarkable bactericidal and curative action.

Thus petrolatum --- hitherto known in medicine only as a demulcant and air-excluding substance and merely used as a bland protective dressing and as a substitute for fats in ointments --- is without appreciable beneficial effect on chronic sores and the like; but irradiation in accordance with this invention endows it with the extraordinary potentialities referred to, whereby it destroys pathogenic microorganisms and accelerates cell proliferation, granulation, and other normal processes, making possible the rapid cure of sluggish wounds, ulcers, and other traumata, notably those of a bacterial character.

For the purposes of the invention, the most effective portion of the ultraviolet zone is that of the wavelengths ranging between 2950 and 3800 Angstrom units, the greatest intensity being found in the "cyanogen band", centering about the 3660 Angstrom units line. Any of the common ultraviolet irradiation means may be employed, as quartz mercury vapor, or preferably, carbon-arc, lamps.

As an example, a 3/8-inch layer of petrolatum in an open dish about 20 inches from an enclosed carbon arc acquires the maximum therapeutic potency on irradiation for between 40 and 60 minutes. An additional hour or so of irradiation gives rise to a perceptible decrease in healing efficacy; if irradiation is continued for about six hours more, there is a total destruction of activity; and on prolonging the period of irradiation to about fifteen hours (sufficient to bring about defluorescence) the therapeutic properties are replaced by irritant properties. In each instance the optimal period of irradiation will of course depend on such factors as the nature of the particular petrolatum product treated, the kind and degree of radiant energy employed, and the distance of the product from the energy source.

Therapeutic agents prepared in accordance with this invention render an infected wound sterile after a few applications, and thereafter keep it so. They rapidly diminish the bacterial count in the exudates, causing a cessation of the purulent exudates and disappearance of the greenish-gray sloughs after two or three application, which transformation under other treatment would take five to six weeks, and in the case of abdominal wounds, would leave the patient with a weak abdominal wall. Healthy granulation and complete closing of the wound result in a much shorter time. The utility of these therapeutic agent has been demonstrated in such diverse conditions as suppurations of the cellular tissues, joint cavities, drainage in appendical abscesses, fistulae in ano, affection of the respiratory tract, infectious inflammations of the mucous membranes, empyema sinuses, infectious and mycotic cutaneous disorders, chronic bone sinuses following osteomyelitis, and varicose, diabetic, and decubital ulcers. Treatment may be achieved in any of numerous modes: for instance, as in the case of surgical wounds, by flooding the affected area with activated petrolatum liquefied by warming; or by directly filling the post-operative nasal sinuses with liquefied activated petrolatum, or, as in bronchiectasis, introducing it, by means of bronchoscope, directly into lung abscesses.

More specifically, in extensive suppurations of the abdominal wall following laparatomy, the entire wound is flooded with liquefied activated petrolatum, and covered with gauze; and a like application is made on the next day or after a two-day interval. Within twenty-four hours the discharge is greatly diminished; and after the second or third application the wound is free from purulent exudates, and sloughing fasciae and necrosed fat have disappeared and granulation has begun. After two or three, or occasionally four, applications, the wound is sufficiently clean and free from discharge to allow of closure with deep silkworm sutures.

Again, in teno-vaginitis, flooding the open tendon-sheath at the time of the operation with liquefied activated petrolatum, is signally successful. No extension of the infection occurs, as otherwise so frequently happens in these cases; purulent exudates is not seen at the next dressing, and the temperature drops to normal and healing rapidly follows.

Further, in sinuses and fistulous tracts such as persist after appendectomy and cholecystectomy, healing often occurs within two days after the first injection.

Still further, in chronic osteomyelitis, after thorough saucerization the bony trough is flooded with liquefied activated petrolatum and a dry dressing applied. Repetition of this treatment cures many otherwise intractable cases.

Experimentation has demonstrated that the curative powers conferred by the method of this invention are unrelated to vitamin D, photosynthesized in ergosterol-containing material; on the one hand, activated petrolatum exercises no antirachitic effect on rats; and on the other neither viosterol nor viosterol mixed with unactivated petrolatum, when applied to wounds in the same manner as activated petrolatum, displays any of the latter's characteristic healing efficacy.

By adding an unrefined petroleum product to a refined petroleum product (such as 'white mineral oil") and irradiating it, it is possible to obtain a therapeutically activated mixture.

It is to be understood that the foregoing examples are merely illustrative and by no means limitative of the invention, which may be variously otherwise embodied --- as with respect to the specific petroleum products activated, the apparatus or and manner of accomplishing irradiation, and the way of administering the therapeutic agents --- within the scope of the appended claims.

I claim: [Claims not included here]

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