Alexander Fleming was a botanist, pharmacologist, and biologist from Scotland. He made various contributions to the medical fields of chemotherapy, immunology, and bacteriology. He is best known for discovery of penicillin and the lysozyme enzyme. He won a Nobel Prize in the field of medicine in 1928 for discovery of penicillin. He shared the prize with two other scientists. The discovery of penicillin literally changed the world. Penicillin altered treatment of infections caused by bacteria forever and became a very important life-saver.
The discovery led to emergence of a strong industry of pharmacies which developed forms of penicillin which would conquer the most dangerous diseases in the history of mankind such as tuberculosis, gangrene, and Syphilis. The Historical Era Alexander Fleming was born in Scotland in 1881. He first studied at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London and later schooled at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School when he got some money. At St. Mary’s he got an offer to work as an assistant to Sir Almorth Wright, a bacteriologist who is credited with pioneering immunology and vaccine therapy.
He went on to become a lecturer at the institution. In 1928, he became a professor of The Bacteriology department in The University of London (Brown, 2010). Alexander Fleming was working in the post Edwardian era historical period. The Steps and Methods Alexander Fleming Took to Advance Public Health His interest in bacteriology was inspired by his work as a regiment member during World War 1. He had witnessed the death of many soldiers from wound infections which caused sepsis. The antiseptics that were in use during that period killed the body’s immune defences faster than they destroyed the bacteria (Tames, 2010).
He conducted a creative experiment which demonstrated how antiseptics were destroying immune defences faster than they were destroying bacteria and published the findings of the experiment in a medical journal. His experiment illustrated that antiseptics appeared to work efficiently on the surface of the wound but if the wound had a deep cut, the cut would shield the bacteria from the antiseptic administered. His findings were rejected by most of the physicians who worked in the army and they continued administering antiseptic treatment to wounded soldiers.
Alexander Fleming’s main discovery occurred in 1928. By then his reputation as an expert researcher had spread widely. He was however criticized for working in a messy laboratory. The morning of the third day of September of that year would change everything. He went to his laboratory after spending the holidays with family members (Brown, 2010). Before he left for the vacation, he had heaped cultures of a substance he was researching at a place in the corner. The substance was staphylococci.
Upon returning he realized that one of the cultures had been contaminated by fungi and that the colonies which were closer to the fungi had been obliterated while the colonies that had been a bit far had not been affected. He took the mould and grew in an un-contaminated culture. He discovered that the substance produced by the mould could kill a number of bacteria responsible for causing various diseases. He named the substance produced by the mould “mould juice” but after discovering that the mould originated from the Penicillium genus he renamed the “juice”, called it penicillin and officially released it on march 1929 (Macfarlane, 2011).
Fleming continued with his research and discovered that the penicillin could act against many bacterial organisms. His research revealed that apart from staphylococcus, the substance also acted on the pathogens which caused diphtheria, meningitis, pneumonia, and scarlet fever, diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria which belong to the Gram-positive category. Penicillin would however not act on diseases caused by bacteria in the Gram-negative category such as typhoid. It however acted on the Gram-negative bacterium which caused Gonorrhoea.
His comprehensive discovery was published in The Journal of Experimental Pathology (Tames, 2010). His article was not given much attention but he still continued with the research. As he continued with his research, it became clear to him the isolating penicillium from the mould was difficult and cumbersome. He began having doubts about the effectiveness of penicillium in treatment due to the impossibility of producing it in large quantities. He eventually abandoned research on penicillin in 1940 convinced that it would not be effective in treating bacterial infections.
His failure could be attributed to the fact that he was not a chemist (Smith, 2012). His research was taken up by Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Florey, two chemists who were interested in important discoveries in bacteriology. The two would later share the Nobel Prize with him. The scientists got sufficient funds from the British and The US governments and they succeeded in bulk-production of Penicillin such that by the time World War 11 ended, there was sufficient Penicillin for treatment of all soldiers who were fighting for The Allies (Gottfried, 2007).
The Overall Impact The scientists who shared the Nobel Prize with Fleming researched penicillin extensively after Fleming abandoned the project. They came up with an effective method of isolating and concentrating penicillin. Another scientist suggested that transfer of the active ingredients into water would change the acidity. The contributions by other scientists made it possible to purify and stabilize Penicillin enabling mass production and distribution by 1945. Fleming remained modest about his achievements in the discovery process.
He described his role as a myth and said that the full credit belonged to Chain and Florey for the instrumental role they played into transforming it into an effective drug (Smith, 2012). Obstacles and Barriers When Alexander Fleming made the discovery that antiseptics destroyed the body’s immunological defences faster than they destroyed bacteria and published his experiment, army doctors ignored his discovery and continued treating wounded soldiers with antiseptics despite the fact that all of them were dying.
When he later published his findings on the effectives of Penicillin in The Journal of Experimental pathology, very little attention was paid to his research (Smith, 2012). At one point, he was convinced that because Penicillin would not last for a long duration in the human body, it would not destroy bacteria effectively so in the long run it would not play an important role in treatment of bacterial infections. Despite the challenges, the future of penicillin was secured when two chemistry researchers from Oxford got interested in Alexander Fleming’s work.
How the Advancements That Were Made Continues to Affect Today’s Public Health Efforts on a Local, National and Global Basis The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming marked the beginning of use and manufacture of antibiotics. Fleming was the first science to isolate penicillin and promote its use. Fleming cautioned against over-dependence on penicillin unless the physician made a proper diagnosis. He also warned against use of little amounts of penicillin for short periods of time because he had noticed in his experiments that use of too little penicillin made bacteria resistant to its active ingredients (Gottfried, 2007).
It is acknowledged worldwide that Penicillin was one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century. The contribution of Alexander Fleming’s discovery to public health on the local, national and global level cannot be undermined. Drugs derived from penicillin are used to treat bacterial infections, gonorrhoea, urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, ear infections, dental infections, and skin infections amongst others. Newer versions of penicillin such as amoxicillin and ampilicin have been developed and they act on a broader spectrum of diseases than the original penicillin which only acts on anaerobic bacteria.
Just like Alexander Fleming cautioned, it has emerged that many bacterial pathogens have developed resistance to Penicillin. Public health agents normally have to conduct a sensitivity and culture test before prescribing Penicillin. Penicillin improved the standards of living, quality of life, and life expectancy for people from all over the globe. Alexander Fleming deserves to be honoured for his vital contribution to medical science and public health. References Brown, K. (2010).
Alexander Fleming and the development of penicillin: Alexander Fleming laboratory museum education resource pack. London: Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum. Gottfried, T. (2007). Alexander Fleming: Discoverer of penicillin.
New York: Franklin Watts. Macfarlane, G. (2011). Alexander Fleming, the man and the myth. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Smith, S. (2012). Alexander Fleming: Conquering disease with penicillin. New York: Facts on File. Tames, R. (2010). Alexander Fleming. New York: Franklin Watts.