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March 1985

Corning, Cocaine, and Local Anesthesia

Arch Ophthalmol. 1985;103(3):325. doi:10.1001/archopht.1985.01050030021007

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To the Editor.  —Dr Goldberg's centennial melodrama1 captures the historical events surrounding the discovery of cocaine as a local anesthetic in an informative, provocative and historically rich manner. We wish to add an additional player, James Leonard Corning, to the already renowned list of dramatis personae.Born in 1855 in Stamford, Conn, Corning studied at German universities in Heidelberg and Würzburg. Later, he became a prolific writer with an avid interest in neurology and was a frequent observer at the Roosevelt Hospital where Halsted performed his teaching.23In 1885, one year after Carl Koller demonstrated the usefulness of cocaine as a surface analgesic, Corning4 designed a series of experiments to test this new agent on the spinal cord. He proposed that injections of cocaine into minute interspinal blood vessels located between the spinous processes would be rapidly transported to the spinal cord and affect a temporary transverse myelitis.

Goldberg MF: Cocaine:  The first local anesthetic and the 'third scourge of humanity.' Arch Ophthalmol 1984;102:1443-1447.Article
Lee JA, Atkinson RS: Sir Robert Macintosh's Lumbar Puncture and Spinal Analgesia. Intradural and Extradural . London, Churchill Livingstone, 1978, pp 1-23.
Fink BR:  History of local anesthesia , in Cousins MJ, Bridenbaugh PO (eds): Neural Blockade in Clinical Anesthesia and Management of Pain . Philadelphia, JB Lippincott Co, 1980, pp 3-18.
Corning JL:  Spinal anesthesia and local medication of the cord . NY Med J 1885;42:483.
Corning JL:  On the prolongation of the anaesthetic effect of the hydrochlorate of cocaine, when subcutaneously injected: An experimental study . NY Med J 1885;42:317-319.
Anonymous:  Biographical sketch of Dr James Leonard Corning, of New York City, and his recent remarkable discoveries in local anaesthesia . Va Med 1886;12:713-719.