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science > microbiologists > 19th, 20th century > UK > Alexander Fleming    1881-1955

 

 

 

Alexander Fleming:

‘There is no evidence that Fleming read the literature

or appreciated the importance of his “discovery”

for many years afterwards,’

writes Roger Bayston.

 

Photograph: BBC

 

Alexander Fleming late to penicillin

G

Fri 3 Mar 2017    17.52 GMT

Last modified on Tue 28 Nov 2017    04.23 GMT

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/03/
alexander-fleming-late-to-penicillin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From 1946 to 1948,

American

public health doctors

deliberately infected

nearly 700 Guatemalans

— prison inmates,

mental patients

and soldiers —

with venereal diseases

in what was meant

as an effort to test

the effectiveness

of penicillin.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/02/health/research/02infect.html

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/
health/14syphilis.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/02/
health/research/02infect.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1928

 

Alexander Fleming (1881-1955)

discovers penicillin


 

Alexander Fleming

discovered penicillin

while working

at a London hospital.

 

Twelve years later,

scientists

at Oxford University

made penicillin

into a readily available

medicine.

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/
story.php?storyId=3616227&t=1586114823894

 

 

 

Penicillin eventually

went on to revolutionize

medicine,

which by the 1940s

was mass-producing

the antibiotic to treat

many bacterial infections.

 

"Scientists

at Oxford University

further developed

penicillin,"

the AP explains,

"and production

was ramped up

so that enough

of the antibiotic

would be available

for the Allied invasion

on D-Day in 1944."

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/01/
517979196/this-tiny-patch-of-mold-cost-one-lucky-buyer-nearly-15-000

 

 

 

Alexander Fleming's

discovery of penicillin in 1929

had largely been by accident.

 

A forgotten culture plate

had grown a big blob

of green mould.

 

In between

the mould and clumps

of yellow bacteria

lay a host of dead microbes.

 

Something emanating

from the mould

had apparently killed them.

 

Fleming named

his discovery penicillin,

but concluded that

it had little use

or application.

 

After publishing

a vague academic paper

about its laboratory properties,

he soon moved on.

 

For 10 years penicillin

was forgotten.


When Heatley

and the other members

of Florey's team

recognised the potential

of Fleming's discovery,

it proved, however,

extremely difficult

to reproduce

the mould Fleming

had discovered

by accident.

 

Not only

was the right mould

terribly elusive,

it also proved very difficult

to get the active ingredient

out of the liquid

which the mould produced.

 

Only one part in two million

is penicillin,

and separating penicillin

from the impurities

was to prove a highly complex

procedure.

 

It was also wartime, which meant

that research funds were scarce,

equipment difficult to get hold of,

and air raids a constant threat.

 

The breakthrough

finally occurred

when Heatley came up

with the ingenious suggestion

of transferring the penicillin

back into water

by changing the acidity.

 

Even then, the penicillin

produced still contained

masses of impurities.

 

Having extracted a small amount,

the team then set about

cultivating sufficient quantities

to conduct trials on animals.

 

Then, in May 1940,

trials were conducted

on eight mice.

 

In meticulous handwriting,

Heatley recorded the process

in his diary:

 

"After supper

with some friends,

I returned to the lab

and met the professor

to give a final dose of penicillin

to two of the mice.

 

The 'controls'

were looking very sick,

but the two treated mice

seemed very well.

 

I stayed at the lab

until 3.45am,

by which time

all four control animals

were dead."

 

Typically low key,

Heatley's diary entry notes

merely that when he got home

he discovered

that he had put his underpants

on back to front in the dark,

merely adding:

"It really looks as if penicillin

may be of practical importance."

 

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2004/jan/08/
guardianobituaries.highereducation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/03/
alexander-fleming-late-to-penicillin

 

https://www.npr.org/2017/03/02/
518197111/old-penicillin-mold-auctioned-for-more-than-14-000

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/01/
517979196/this-tiny-patch-of-mold-cost-one-lucky-buyer-nearly-15-000

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/05/23/
477653310/penicillin-shortage-could-be-a-problem-for-people-with-syphilis

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/mar/11/
antibiotics-drug-resistance-is-not-theoretical-threat-real-immediate

 

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2004/jan/08/
guardianobituaries.highereducation

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/the-h-word/2013/jun/17/
discover-new-antibiotics-historical-hints

 

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/
story.php?storyId=128444970 - July 11, 2010

 

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/
story.php?storyId=3616227&t=1586114823894 - July 25, 2004

 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/may/02/
scienceandnature.highereducation1

 

https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2013/mar/12/
penicillin-fleming-alexander-bacteriology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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