When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.
-- Sir Alexander Fleming (quoted on NCBI)
Did you know that quite an accidental discovery led to revolutionary success in modern medicine? The young, Scottish physician and microbiologist of Darvel, Ayreshire, Alexander Fleming left an uncovered staphylococcus culture plate in his London lab -- only to find that the ensuing mold formed a bacteria-free circle around itself. The mold culture prevented growth of staphylococci, thereby leading to a most significant development: the active substance called penicillin which would cure bacterial infections and prove an indispensable medicine in continuous use to this day.
Knighted in 1944, Sir Alexander Fleming, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (England), 1909, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (London), received many awards throughout his lifetime, among them the Nobel Prize for Medicine, which was jointly awarded in 1945 to Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Howard Walter Florey "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases." A prolific author of papers and articles on bacteriology, immunology and chemotherapy, including original descriptions of lysozyme and penicillin, Fleming contributed greatly to his field of research and saved thousands of lives through widespread use of penicillin to combat infection and disease. He died on March 11, 1955 at the age of 73 years and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.
- Ratcliff, J. (1943, May 16). Here's Medical Magic!: Meet One Of the Most Powerful Microbe Destroyers Ever Found: Penicillin. It's a Brand-New Wonder Drug That Will Save Thousands Of Soldiers' Lives. The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945)
- Laurence, W.M. (1943, Aug 01). More Penicillin: America Speeds Production Of This Bacteria Killer. New York Times (1923-)
- December 19, 1943 (page 9). (1943, Dec 19). Sunday Worker (1936-1958)
- Princeton Honors Penicillin Finder: Honorary Degree Of Doctor Of Science Is Awarded To Sir Alexander Fleming. (1945, Jun 24). New York Times (1923-)
- Nobel Prize For Sir Alexander Fleming: Discoverer Of Penicillin. (1945, Oct 27). The Times of India (1861-2010)
- Oklahomans See the Point Of Unfettered Medical Study. (1949, Jul 06). The Sun (1837-)
- Dr. Fleming Honored On 25th Anniversary Of Penicillin Find. (1954, Jun 30). Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960)
- Jackson, J. H. (1955, Mar 29). Bookman's Notebook. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995)
- Dubos, R. (1959, May 31). Chance Favored a Prepared Mind: The Life Of Sir Alexander Fleming: Discoverer Of Penicillin. New York Times (1923-)
- 'Sir Alexander Fleming'. (1959, Jun 03). New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- Mann, John. Life Saving Drugs: The Elusive Magic Bullet. Cambridge: NBN International, 2007.
- Tan, Siang Yong and Yvonne Yatsumara. Alexander Fleming (1881–1955): Discoverer Of Penicillin. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
- Thompson, Gilbert. Nobel Prizes That Changed Medicine. London: Imperial College Press, 2012.
- Tocci, Salvatore. Alexander Fleming : the Man Who Discovered Penicillin. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2002.
- Sample Of Penicillin Mould Presented By Alexander Fleming to Douglas Macleod, 1935, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
- Special News Slide, Courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries
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