Before discovery of penicillin, there was no successful treatment for communicable disease like rheumatoid factor, pneumonia and also gonorrhea. Hospitals were pilled with patients who had blood poisoning acquired through either a cut or scratch. Doctors could not do much as at the moment there was no effective treatment. In 1940s, penicillin was introduced. This discovery ushered in an antibiotic era. This medical breakthrough came as a result of combined efforts between the USA and UK. Penicillin discovery and original recognition of its medical potential first occurred in the UK.
Due to the Second World War, development and large scale production was done in the United States. Discovery of penicillin Penicillin is an antibiotic. Antibiotics are products of bacteria and fungi which have the ability to kill, inhibit or compete with microbial species that cause diseases. This idea had been in use long before discovery of penicillin like in the ancient Egypt where they used to apply a poultice of decaying bread on contaminated wounds. A real antibiotic was discovered in the year 1928 by Alexander Fleming who was a professor at the time of discovery in the field of Bacteriology at St.
Mary’s Hospital located in London (Kendall, p. 182). Alexander had gone for a holiday after which he returned to the hospital he was working on September 3rd 1928. He started examining Petri dishes that had colonies belonging to staphylococcus. While examining the Petri dishes, he noticed one that was unique from the rest that had colonies that were dotted. The mold had a clear zone around it that as if there was something that it was producing that could inhibit bacteria from growing (Haven and Kendall p. 205). After Fleming separated the “mold juice”, he discovered that this juice had a potential of killing different kinds of bacteria.
He assigned his assistants Frederick and Stuart the task of separating pure penicillin from the juice. They found it to be very unstable as a result they could only be able to prepare crude solutions to use in their work. Fleming’s findings were published in a British journal about experimental pathology by him in June 1929 with reference to therapeutic ability of penicillin. At that moment, it appeared that its major application could be isolation of penicillin sensitive from insensitive bacteria in a mixture of cultures.
This could greatly benefit bacteriologists, maintaining an ongoing interest in penicillin. Other researchers such as Harold tried to purify penicillin but in vain (Clardy, p. 205) Penicillin research at Oxford University It’s in Oxford University where penicillin which at the time was just a laboratory curiosity was turned into an important drug that could later safe many lives. This was possible due to the combined efforts of Howard Florey, Ernst Chain together with their colleagues at Dunn school of pathology in Oxford University.
According to Clardy, p. 205, the work of purifying and discovering the chemistry behind penicillin seriously began in 1939. They needed to produce approximately 500 liters of mold filtrate a week to use it in carrying out animal experiments together with clinical trials. They began with growing the molds in an array of vessels such as food tins, baths, milk churns and also bedpans. Later a culture vessel was designed that could enable easy removal of molds creation of space. This enabled renewal of the mold beneath the surface.
A team of girls were hired who were supposed to inoculate and look into the fermentation process (Haven and Kendall p. 205). In the meantime, penicillin was being extracted by a biochemist called Norman from filtrates that came off the production line. By use of a countercurrent system, Norman could extract penicillin into amyl acetate after which he could return it to water. Before proceeding to clinical trials, Edward Abraham who was also helping in stepping up production could purify penicillin by use of alumina column chromatography which was new at the time (Clardy, p. 205).
In 1940, an important experiment was done by Florey. It helped demonstrate that penicillin had the ability to protect mice from infection by deadly streptococci. On February 12, 1941, the Oxford vaccine was administered to a police man who became the first beneficiary. The police man had been injured and acquired a deadly infection that affected his eyes, lungs and also the face. After he was injected with penicillin, he remarkably improved but later died after the drug supplies got finished.
Results from other patients that followed were much better after which plans to avail penicillin to British soldiers in the battle field were put in place. It helped in healing soldiers who had been wounded and acquired life threatening infections while at the same time it helped ailments that had tormented civilization for ages such as syphilis were put under control (Reverby, p. 24). Because of war, production became difficult but the challenge was taken by British drug producing companies and later a London firm by the name Kemball Bishop.