Story of Penicillin

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Before Penicillin

3000 years ago, the Chinese were using moldy soybean curd on boils and other skin infections. But prior to the discovery of penicillin patients often died from trivial injuries or infections. Physicians had little ability to help patients suffering from infection. They could only watch and wait hoping a patient’s immune system could overcome an infection. Image Courtesy: www.crazywebsite.com

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Before Penicillin
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Alexander Fleming - Personal details

Alexander Fleming was born in Lochfield Scotland in 1881. The seventh of eight children, Fleming received a very good education and was able to attend the University of London on scholarship. His older brother (already an MD) recommended he go to medical school. Fleming got very high scores on his entrance exams and he chose St Mary’s in London. Image Courtesy: upload.wikimedia.org

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Alexander Fleming - Personal details
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Fleming work history

Fleming graduated from medical school in 1906 at the age of 25. He was offered a job as research assistant at the inoculation department at St Mary’s Hospital in London. He went to France during WWI to treat wounded soldiers and saw first hand there was no effective treatment for most infections. Fleming believed that the best way to treat wound infections was to enhance the body’s natural immune system. Image Courtesy: 3.bp.blogspot.com

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Fleming work history
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Discovery by mistake

He started research and inoculated a number of Petri dishes with staphylococci before leaving on vacation in September 1928. He did not placed them in an incubator because he knew that the staphylococci would sufficiently multiply over the time he returned from his long vacation. Little did he know that penicillin mold also grew well at room temperature. Image Courtesy: www.mc.vanderbilt.edu

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Discovery by mistake
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Further research

Fleming returned to his lab to find many of his culture plates contaminated with fungus. It was obvious to Fleming that penicillin was much more powerful than lysozymes. Between 1929 & 1931, Fleming continued to work on with penicillin but was never able to produce it in quantities necessary for practical testing or applications. He also found that many of his cultures were unstable and stopped producing mold after eight days. Image Courtesy: www.battersea.org.uk

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Further research
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Dr Chain & Dr Florey

Dr Ernst Chain, a talented biochemist who had fled Nazi Germany was persuaded by Dr. Florey to join his Oxford team. Dr. Chain came up with the idea to research the properties of antibacterial substances. Funding was obtained and research began. Image Courtesy: www.mieliestronk.com

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Dr Chain & Dr Florey
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Isolating penicillin

Chain was able to freeze dry the penicillin and produce a stable brown powder. An important observation was that the penicillin powder passed unaltered and without loss of effects into the urine, this meant that penicillin could pass through the body and fight infections wherever they were and could be recollected from the urine for further research. The first landmark paper detailing experiments on mice were published in August 1940. Image Courtesy: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

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Isolating penicillin
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Mass production

Penicillin production began in Britain on a small scale in 1941 due to World War II. Dr. Florey visited the US and Canada with a sample mold in July 1941. He was recommended by an American professor to meet the head of the USDA research laboratory in Peoria, Illinois, Dr. Robert Coghill. Dr. Coghill suggested deep fermentation could make the production of penicillin more efficient and convenient. Image Courtesy: blog.europeana.eu

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Mass production
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Penicillin saves the World

This worked and mass production of penicillin started and by the time the war ended US companies were making 650 billion units a month. During WWI the death rate from pneumonia in the US Army totaled 18% and during WWII the death rate fell to less than 1% due to use of penicillin. Image Courtesy: www.mtaofnj.org

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Penicillin saves the World
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Noble Prize

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Fleming, Florey and Chain in 1945. Fleming and Florey were knighted in 1944 and Chain was later knighted in 1965. Image Courtesy: upload.wikimedia.org

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Noble Prize
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