History of growth hormone therapy

Indian J Pediatr. 2012 Jan;79(1):87-91. doi: 10.1007/s12098-011-0609-4. Epub 2011 Nov 12.


The first human to receive GH therapy was in 1956; it was of bovine origin and was given for 3 wk for metabolic balance studies revealing no effects. By 1958, three separate laboratories utilizing different extraction methods retrieved hGH from human pituitaries, purified it and used for clinical investigation. By 1959 presumed GHD patients were being given native hGH collected and extracted by various methods. Since 1 mg of hGH was needed to treat one patient per day, >360 human pituitaries were needed per patient per year. Thus, the availability of hGH was limited and was awarded on the basis of clinical research protocols approved by the National Pituitary Agency (NPA) established in 1961. hGH was dispensed and injected on a milligram weight basis with varied concentrations between batches from 0.5 units/mg to 2.0 units/mg of hGH. By 1977 a centralized laboratory was established to extract all human pituitaries in the US, this markedly improved the yield of hGH obtained and most remarkably, hGH of this laboratory was never associated with Creutzfeld-Jacob disease (CJD) resulting from the injection of apparently prior- contaminated hGH produced years earlier. However, widespread rhGH use was not possible even if a pituitary from each autopsy performed in the US was collected, this would only permit therapy for about 4,000 patients. Thus, the mass production of rhGH required the identification of the gene structure of the hormone, methodology that began in 1976 to make insulin by recombinant technology. Serendipity was manifest in 1985 when patients who had received hGH years previously were reported to have died of CJD. This led to the discontinuation of the distribution and use of hGH, at a time when a synthetic rhGH became available for clinical use. The creation of a synthetic rhGH was accompanied by unlimited supplies of hGH for investigation and therapy. However, the appropriate use and the potential abuse of this hormone are to be dealt with. The illegitimate use of rhGH, unequivocally the abuse by athletes is, and should be, of primary concern to society and should be halted. The abuse of prescribing rhGH in an attempt to retard the aging process also should receive attention.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Growth Disorders / drug therapy
  • Growth Disorders / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Human Growth Hormone / history*
  • Human Growth Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Recombinant Proteins / history
  • Recombinant Proteins / therapeutic use


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Human Growth Hormone