Penicillin is a group of antibiotics that are obtained from Penicillium fungi or produced synthetically. These antibiotics are used for treating many types of bacterial infections including; syphilis, gonorrhea, pneumonia, meningitis, anthrax, rheumatic fever and many more. The discovery of penicillin was significant, because it was the first drug to treat many of these diseases. It is considered by many experts as one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century! Let’s take a look at the discovery and development of this important drug.
Who discovered penicillin?
The person credited with the discovery of penicillin is Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming. He made the discovery by accident on September 28, 1928. He had accidentally left a Petri dish containing the staphylococcus bacteria open and it had been contaminated by mold. The part of the dish containing the mold had a distinct area of inhibited bacteria growth around it. He hypothesized that the mold was releasing something that was preventing the bacteria from growing. Further investigation of the mold showed it to be Penicillium mold. He discontinued study on penicillin in 1931 because he didn’t think it would last inside the body long enough to treat infection. However, he restarted clinical trials in 1934 and actively searched for someone to purify the substance.
In 1930, a pathologist called Cecil George Paine was the first to record a cure with penicillin. He treated eye infection in 4 babies and 1 adult, but failed to treat 1 other. Even with these early successes, it took some time for penicillin to be widely used to treat infections. It wasn’t until the early 1940′s that a research team, led by Australian Howard Florey, developed a method for mass producing the drug. By the end of World War II, penicillin production was an industrial process and the drug was widely available. In 1945 Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain (a member of the research team) shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine with Alexander Fleming.