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Letters about UC inventor, alumnus George Sperti

old tube of Sperti Ointment

In May 2002, we eagerly published Ed Glenn's inquiry into Sperti Ointment (see below), knowing our readers always rise to such challenges. What we didn't expect was the volume of excitement such a little tube of cream generated -- nearly dozens phone calls, letters and e-mails, which have continued for years.

Was the topic that intriguing? Did we place Ed's letter in just the right spot? Or was Dr. George Sperti, Eng '23, such a dear man that he simply triggered warm memories?

Excerpts from the letters follow for you to decide for yourself:

A number of famous UC alumni worked on developing the well-regarded burn ointment "Sperti," which came out of [alumnus] George Sperti's laboratory, including Joseph Kowalewski and Daniel Fuentes. Do any of your alumni know if and where Sperti ointment could be obtained today? Is it now marketed under a different name? Sperti was a veritable pharmaceutical institution in our family, but I'm unable to find it currently. Many thanks for your interest.
Edward Glenn
Via e-mail

I was just teasing my mother-in-law about always telling me to use Sperti Ointment on a burn, even though nobody has ever had any since I joined the family. Then in your magazine, I found a man looking for the cream. Did you find any answers? I know my mother-in-law will think I am a smart cookie if I am able to find some ointment.
S. Harlow
Via e-mail

When I was in school, my mother always used Sperti's Bio-Dyne for all my cuts, scrapes and burns. I became familiar with its unforgettable, unique odor. Later in life, when I had need for Preparation H, I rediscovered that same unique odor.

I concluded that Preparation H was either the same or very similar to the no-longer available Sperti Ointment. So I began using Preparation H for cuts, scrapes, and burns with great success. All of my first aid kits contain a small tube of Preparation H.
Charles Wallace, Eng. '58
Amston, Conn.

I had the pleasure of being George Sperti's physician toward the end of his life. He was a charming Italian gentleman, was a member of the Italian Academy of Scientists, was not married and had a manufacturing factory in Kenton County until just before his death. Sperti's Bio-Dyne was the official name of the ointment, but its use and value faded in the antibiotic era.
Raymond Timmerman, A&S '47, MD '51
Ft. Thomas, Ky.

Because I publish medical newsletters, I have access to a wealth of information on pharmaceuticals. On Sept. 19, 1996, the Food and Drug Administration withdrew the drug application for Sperti Bio-Dyne Ointment, after repeated failure of the Sperti Co., which has been out of existence for some time, to file the required FDA reports. Accordingly, the product is no longer available.

The U.S. FDA is tough about product claims without appropriate clinical studies. Sperti's Bio-Dyne may be one of these products, even though it had been available for many years. It's too expensive for companies to conduct complete clinical studies, costing millions of dollars, on products such as this.

Dr. Sperti also developed the Sperti Sunlamp for tanning. There are many on sale on the e-Bay auction every day.
Irvin Goodman, Pharm '60

I made a few inquires regarding Sperti Ointment since it was a mainstay in my home. The product was marketed with Whitehall, which merged with Wyeth labs. Whitehall-Robins Canadian Consumer Service told me Sperti Ointment was discontinued and the formula was not sold to another company.

On the positive side, I do know that new technology has discovered infrared products that help burns, and I can attest to the alternative from personal experience.
M. Ann Ballman Lynch, DAAP '72
Marathon, Fla.

My laboratory has been studying the active ingredients of Sperti's medicine for the past 10 years. The original formulation of Sperti's burn medicine is no longer available. The closest one can get to the Sperti Ointment is the European formulation of Preparation H containing the active ingredient "LYCD" [live yeast cell derivative].
Stephen Keller
Associate professor of biology

On a personal note, Dr. Sperti raised my father and inspired him to attend UC to become a doctor. My grandparents were Italian immigrants who didn't speak a word of English. When my grandfather fell ill, Dr. Sperti took pity on my father.

We spent every weekend at "Uncle George's" farm in Burlington, Ky. On the long driveway leading to the farm house was a fascinating little house that we called the "mouse house," because it was full of experimental mice and rabbits.

I remember that Uncle George made his own pasta and dried it on pool cues. He also made the best salt water taffy in the world, turning it into a big family project.

Besides the ointment, he also invented the formula that became a well-known powdered meat tenderizer. In his later years, he began selling off his patents and the institute, piece by piece. Uncle George died in April 1991, at age 91.
Todd Cassini, CCM '88
Bearcat mascot for four years

I am the happy owner of half a tube of Sperti Ointment that I used today on a small burn with the usual success. This ointment must have been fabricated around 1953. (My parents bought it, and I inherited it.) It's still perfect and worked like a charm after all those years. It really is miraculous if you spread it quickly, and only a thin coat is necessary.
Eric Forat Sao
Paulo, Brazil

I, too, grew up with Sperti's Bio-Dyne and was bereft when it became impossible to find. We even wrote to Whitehall Laboratories asking for help in getting some more.
I had often told my husband about its wonderful properties and the story of our neighbor's kitchen fire. When my mother heard the screams and saw the flames spreading from the frying pan, she yelled for us to bring the Sperti's. Once the fire was extinguished, mother slathered the precious ointment on Mr. Holmes' burned arms and face, and drove him off to the hospital. And yes, everywhere the Sperti's covered, our friend healed with nary a blister; and the places she missed took a long time to heal.

Then one day we were visiting a small New England town, which time seemed to have forgot, and there, on the shelf of the old drug store, just past the soda fountain with the green swivel stools, was a single, dusty tube of Sperti's. I bought it and have been using it ever so sparingly for the last 15 years. Tonight I allowed a tiny dab for my husband's scraped and raw fingertips. We are sure he will be better in the morning. Preparation H just doesn't work quite as well.
Johanna Fiske
Via e-mail

Many thanks for the online information about Sperti ointment. I wondered what had happened to it. I have looked for it about every time that I go to the pharmacy. I had a bad burn at one time. I applied Sperti. The next morning when I got up, I looked for the burn and it was practically gone. I guess that now I will have to use preparation "H."
Richard Fitzpatrick
Baton Rouge, La.

I'm a Carlsbad, Calif., resident, originally from Northern Kentucky, where I spent most of my childhood and just about all of my summers. I remember all of my elders covering me in Sperti ointment for everything from scratches to sunburn.

A few years ago I went on a quest to find some Sperti after my 4-year-old daughter got a little too much sun. I found it was long gone, and it seemed like an era had passed, although I still have a couple of tubes of the old stuff.

Thank you for bringing back such fond memories of my youth.
Scott O'Connell
Carlsbad, Calif.

As a co-op student, I worked for the Sperti Co. in the early 1940s. At the time, co-op jobs were scarce, so R.A. VanWye scoured Cincinnati, all of Ohio and Indiana for any type of work. After working at a rug-cleaning company and a garbage-can manufacturer, I was offered a job at Sperti. This was a big step up technically and financially at 50 cents an hour.

My first job there was at a multi-storied plant in Norwood, located in the same area as the U.S. Playing Card Co. In one of the upper floors, I helped extract Bio-Dyne from brewers yeast. At that time, Cincy had many breweries to supply the yeast.

Extraction was done with hot ethanol. The slurry was filtered and clear filtrate concentrated in a vacuum evaporator. The concentrate contained the active ingredient Bio-Dyne. I once asked Professor Green, my chemistry instructor, what Bio-Dyne was, and he just shrugged.

At a later period, I worked for the Institutum Divi Thomae located in the Rookwood Pottery buildings. The research laboratories were upstairs, but in the cellar, my co-worker, an elder gentleman, and I extracted agar from seaweed. Agar was to be used as a gel in the jelly-making process.

One of the research scientists (called either Dr. or Professor Hoffman) wanted to use the residual seaweed as a lawn fertilizer upon decomposition. Consequently, we delivered truckloads of seaweed to his home and covered his entire back lawn ... in winter. I often wondered how the experiment turned out the next spring and summer.

The institution provided a free hot lunch for the research people upstairs, but the two of us in the cellar had to brown-bag it. (Oh, where was Divi Thomas when we needed him?) My lunch, self prepared, consisted of peanut butter and baloney sandwiches. In contrast, my co-worker dined on a variety of foods, some very unusual, which he always generously shared. This resulted in my once-in-a-lifetime helping of fried possum.

Fondly remembering the good old days,
Joe Aubert, Eng '44
Holland, Mich.

On Feb. 8, 1942, Hamilton, Ohio, went on a two-hour time difference than Cincinnati. The purpose was to spread out peak times of using electricity, but it also forced a choice between family life and work schedules, so our dad, Daniel Fuentes, Eng '26, left Champion Paper in Hamiltion and took a job with George Sperti.

At that time, he worked on their burn ointment product. The ingredient that accelerated the healing of damaged tissue also caused yeast spore problems on the wooden mixing paddles. At our dad's suggestion, they switched from wood to metal paddles.

Both of our parents recognized UC for its contribution to their lives. In turn, they were instrumental in our choice to come to UC, too.
Carmela Fuentes Werner, A&S '63
Elena Fuentes Stothfang, Ed '68

My father, George Rooney, worked for Dr. Sperti from about 1939-43, doing research on agar gels (bacterial culture medium) derived from seaweed. Some of these papers are still in my possession. During my childhood, I remember many stories that my father told of Dr. Sperti. They were consistent the other letters that appear on your online edition — that is, George Sperti was a truly great man.
Richard Rooney, BA ’64, MD ’67, UC Surgical Residency ’74


Editor's note: Mildred Marshall Bork, N&H '55, MSN '71, called to share a few childhood memories of "Cousin George," including how she and other family members taste-tested various forms of preserved orange juice with which he was experimenting. Powdered orange juice was not a favorite.

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