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Alexander Ure

Alexander Ure was born in Scotland in the early nineteenth century, studied at Edinburgh University, and eventually settled in London where he acquired a large medical practice. He became Surgeon to the Westminster General Dispensary and lectured on pathology at the North London Medical School. He was president of the Harveian Society in 1857 and a member of the Pharmaceutical Society.

Ure had a particular interest in the treatment of gout, perhaps related to the fact that his father Andrew Ure, a renowned scientist, suffered from this debilitating disease for many of his later years. He was apparently familiar with the proposal of Woehler that benzoic acid could be converted to hippuric acid in the body. He deduced that this process might utilize urea and thereby diminish the symptoms of gout. He performed the human experiment and was successful in demonstrating the excretion of hippuric acid following administration of benzoic acid. Later studies showed that even in the presence of hippuric acid the level of uric acid in the urine was not diminished. In his subsequent paper entitled New Remedies for Gout he does not mention the use of benzoic acid as a therapeutic possibility.

His intention, in the few remarks contained in his paper, On Gouty Concretions with a New Method of Treatment (read Ure's paper here), is to introduce a remedy to the profession which he believes would be likely to prevent the formation of tophous concretions in gouty subjects. The remedy in question is benzoic acid, administered in doses of one scruple an hour after a meal. "In the course of a couple of hours (as the author has found by frequent experiments made upon himself and others), the urine voided, amounting to five or six ounces, will be found, on adding a small quantity of muriatic acid, to yield a copious precipitate of beautiful rose-pink acicular crystals, which weigh, after being allowed to settle for a day, about fifteen grains." The body thus produced by the agency of vital chemistry is hippuric acid, and is found to have taken the place of uric acid in the urine, more of the latter being discoverable. By thus substituting hippurate of soda, a salt of easy solubility, for the very sparingly soluble urate of that alkali, the author conceives that the formation of the tophous concretions may be altogether prevented.

Ure was Surgeon to the London Scottish Volunteers, and in 1863 while serving with the regiment he fell from his horse and never fully recovered from his injuries. He died in London on June 13th, 1866.

Ref.: Plarr's Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England revised by Sir D'Arcy Power.Vol.II, John Wright & Sons Ltd., Bristol, 1930 p.454. Quoted from: London Medical Gazette, Vol. I: p.735 (1841)