Dimethyl sulfoxide ( DMSO ) was first synthesised by a Russian chemist, Alexander Zaytsev, in 1866.
There was very little interest in DMSO until the 1940s when chemists started investigating its solvent properties. There was also considerable interest, at this time, in ways to use the waste material from products manufactured from trees.
The industrial use of DMSO really began in the 1950s. DMSO came to the fore when the paper manufacturers required ways to utilise the by products of paper making. Crown Zellerbach, a major American paper manufacturing company, set up a research and development facility in Camas, Washington to concentrate on ways to develop chemicals from tree pulp waste. DMS was made from Kraft black liquor, a sulfur alkylating agent , from one of their paper mills. This was then purified by distillation and oxidised to make dimethyl sulfoxide, DMSO.
The medicinal use of DMSO began when Stanley W. Jacob M.D. working for the Oregon Medical School needed a way to preserve transplant organs without the formation of ice crystals. Dr. Jacob discovered that DMSO. with its anti-freeze properties, could achieve this. While working with DMSO he found it had lots of other interesting properties. DMSO had the ability to pass through the skin and other cellular membranes of the body. It is this facility that enables DMSO to be used for transdermal drug delivery. Applied topically to the skin it caused a garlic like odour on the breath. It also had anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Manufacture of DMS ( dimethyl sulfide ) from lignin base material stopped around 2010. Commercially it is now exclusively made from methanol and hydrogen sulfide. DMSO is now made from the DMS obtained this way.