Short Biography of Alexander Fleming
With his almost accidental discovery of Penicillin and the resulting millions of lives saved from its practical use, Alexander Fleming’s work has gone down in history as one the most significant contributions to all mankind.
Born in Scotland, Alexander Fleming was able to attend medical school at Saint Mary’s Hospital in London. In 1906, he became a doctor and did so well in school that he was invited to study to be a surgeon. He declined the offer in order to work under the school’s research department to work on vaccines and immunology. With World War I on the rise, Alexander Fleming became captain of the Army Medical Corps as he worked on the battlefields of Western France. After the war, he returned to St. Mary’s where he became a lecturer and continued researching bacteriology.
What sparked Alexander’s curiosity the most was why antiseptics couldn’t be used to treat deep wounds. He noticed that soldiers treated with them were worse off than if they hadn’t used anything at all. He worked to promote the use of antiseptics only on minor scrapes and cuts. He knew that deeper wounds had a high chance of infection. He theorized that something else was needed to help fight bad bacteria, while preserving the good bacteria, namely lysozyme.
Alexander wasn’t known to be the tidiest of men, even in his laboratory and upon returning from vacation, he discovered most of his dishes had been overtaken with fungi. However, upon closer examination of one dish, he noticed there were no fungi around its brim. Interested in what would have prevented the bacteria growth, he took a sample from the small dish and discovered that a bacteria he called penicillin had prevented the spread of the other bacteria. Elated, he decided to have other researches help him with his experiments. Not sure whether they would be able to reproduce the penicillin in the laboratory, not to mention for mass production, Fleming never thought his discovery would go as far.
It was the work of Howard Florey, a prominent scientist at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, who decided to research Fleming’s discoveries further. With the help of Ernst Chain, they were able to isolate the penicillin in hopes they would be able to make enough pure samples to begin their tests on small animals. It worked and they began seeing the dramatic effects penicillin had on even the worst infections.
hrough their experiments, Fleming realized the newfound drug would have to be used in high doses and for an extended amount of time. If not, the infecting bacteria would become resistant to the first antibiotic. In 1945, Fleming, Chain, and Florey were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine.
People interested in this biography of Alexander Fleming may also be interested in:
- Howard Florey
- Alfred Nobel
- Ernst Chain
- Emil von Behring
- Louis Pasteur
- Marie Curie