Chemical Society names Elkhart invention National Landmark; celebration set for May 1

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2010 –– A home-testing method developed by Elkhart scientists at Miles Laboratories that forever transformed the lives of people with diabetes and kidney disease will be designated a National Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society (ACS) on May 1, 2010.

“The work of Alfred and Helen Free in developing dip-and-read diagnostic strips was a major biochemical advance,” said ACS Board of Directors Chair Bonnie Charpentier. “The work of the Frees and other researchers at Miles Laboratories gave doctors and patients the tools to easily and inexpensively monitor diabetes and kidney diseases. Their research and the subsequent development of Clinistix® demonstrate how the transforming power of chemistry can improve people’s lives.”

To honor the Frees’ work, Charpentier will present a plaque on behalf of ACS during a ceremony that will be held at ETHOS, Inc., a science museum in Elkhart, Ind., beginning at 1 p.m., Saturday, May 1.

“On behalf of the Free family, I would like to thank the Board of Directors of the American Chemical Society,” said Helen Free. “It is indeed an honor for Miles Laboratories and Clinistix® to be chosen as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. Al and I, and the team, at the time were thinking ‘What can we do new for the future?’ Recently, I was in Austin, Texas and spoke with a woman. She said her husband was a diabetic and if we hadn’t done this he wouldn’t be alive today. We all cried. It was a wonderful outreach moment.”

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly is also expected to attend and offer remarks on this landmark research as will Elkhart General Hospital officials and Mayor Dick Moore.

The ETHOS staff will also offer hands-on activities using simulated blood and urine samples where kids of all ages will have a chance to perform chemical diagnostic tests on fictional characters. The museum will also showcase a history of diagnostic tools, a diabetes timeline, and offer interesting videos.

Prior to 1956, when the Frees invented dip-and-read diagnostic tests, urine and blood tests considered routine now required laboratory equipment and expertise, which made it impossible to closely monitor a person’s blood sugar levels. The Frees, research chemists at Miles Laboratories, wondered if there was a better way to do the tests – one that didn’t involve Bunsen burners, test tubes, and was more convenient than effervescent tablets. The Frees’ team developed a way to impregnate reagents directly onto slim strips of filter paper that when dipped into a urine sample changed color to indicate the level of glucose present. The result was Clinistix® a simple, no-mess, highly accurate means of testing urine samples. For diabetics the new invention had the added benefit of testing specifically for glucose rather than for sugars in general.

With the advent of dip-and-read diagnostic strips, people with diabetes and kidney disease gained a previously unimaginable degree of control over their health thanks to the convenience of testing their urine at home on a daily basis.

Similar dip-and-read tests were subsequently developed at Miles (now Bayer Healthcare LLC), including Albustix® for protein, and Multistix®, which permitted 10 different clinical tests on a single strip.

ACS designates as National Historic Chemical Landmarks those seminal chemistry inventions, discoveries, and research that fundamentally improve peoples’ lives. Since the program’s inception in 1992, ACS has designated 66 landmarks (including dip-and-read diagnostic tests). Other landmarks include the discovery of penicillin, the development of Tide (the first synthetic laundry detergent), the historic research of Joseph Priestley, who identified oxygen, and the agricultural research of George Washington Carver for his extensive agricultural research, among others. For more on the Landmark program, please visit

ETHOS (Encouraging Technology and Hands On Science) was created by Bayer Corporation to further community outreach. A non-profit, ETHOS provides research developed curriculum management and assists teachers in the areas of science education. It also offers a host of science activities for the community, such as science summer camps and field trips.


— Rachael Bishop

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Rachael Bishop