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Secrets of Sperti Ointment revealed: The Whole Story

Historic photo of George Sperti and Dean Herman Schneider at a table together

While a grad student, George Sperti (the prominent face on the right) founded UC's Basic Sciences Laboratory with the encouragement of UC president and engineering dean Herman Schneider (center).

Back in the early 1920s, University of Cincinnati undergraduate George Sperti, Eng '23, grabbed the attention of engineering dean Herman Schneider by inventing an electric meter capable of measuring massive quantities of electricity, as consumed by industries. After selling the patent to Westinghouse Electric Corp. for a whopping $30,000, Sperti turned down numerous high-paying offers and remained at UC as a research assistant.

In 1925, he started a research laboratory, known as the Basic Sciences Labratory, in the basement of Old Cunningham Hall, then moved the growing facility to the larger attic in neighboring McMicken Hall. Before his 30th birthday, the renowned Sperti had led a research team in discovering the ultraviolet wavelengths that make vitamin D. Next were numerous patents in selective radiation used to create vitamins, kill bacteria, preserve foods such as orange juice and invent the sun lamp and Aspercreme.

His process for irradiating milk to increase its vitamin D content was bought by General Foods for $300,000. He donated the money to the university to further the work of the laboratory.

In 1935, Sperti founded the Institutum Divi Thomae, a tuition-free research school in Cincinnati attracting international students. Following years of cancer research, the school discovered a cell derivative to stimulate healthy-cell growth; named it Bio-Dyne, from the Greek words bios (life) and dyne (force); and used it in Sperti Ointment, later renamed Preparation H.

old tube of Sperti ointment

In all, three different Bio-Dynes were discovered. By 1970, the institute held approximately 127 patents.

Stories abound of the original Preparation H being used on scars, burns and even wrinkles. The formula contained two active ingredients, shark liver oil and live yeast cell derivative (LYCD).

The U.S. product no longer contains LYCD because of clinical-testing irregularities the FDA discovered. The Canadian and European versions, however, do contain the ingredient, ironically enough, supplied by a Northern Kentucky firm.

Yeast extracts are the main focus of Biologics International, which acquired the equipment in '89 to manufacture and sell the raw material worldwide to pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, including Wyeth. President Amy Miles, who used to work with Sperti, says the material does promote wound healing and reduce signs of aging. In fact, she has a tube of Viennese Preparation H on her desk to soothe chapped lips -- though "it kind of grosses people out," she admits with a chuckle.

While her company has no intention of taking on the FDA to create a new LYCD drug, she is currently formulating a cosmetic cream using a pharmaceutical grade of LYCD.
-- Deborah Rieselman


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