- Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955)
Born at Lochfield Farm near Darvel, in Ayrshire, Fleming moved to London when he was 13, after the death of his father. He worked as a shipping clerk for five years and then became a medical student at St Mary's in Paddington, part of London University. He was a brilliant student and after graduation he joined the bacteriology lab at St Mary's, under Almroth Wright.
During the First World War, Fleming saw at first hand the failure of current antiseptics to treat infected wounds and after the war he returned to St Mary's to find a solution to the problem. Initially, he developed the use of antityphoid vaccines and discovered lysozyme which had some limited use as a food preservative.
In 1928 he discovered that a culture of staphylococcus bacteria had been accidentally infected by an airborne mould which had destroyed the bacteria. This was to transform the treatment of infected wounds with penicillin. The difficulties of developing the fragile substance commercially meant that it took 15 years before it could be produced in large quantities but two Oxford biochemists Howard Florey and Ernst Chan succeeded. Initial supplies were used exclusively by the armed forces and undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. Fleming was knighted in 1944 and Fleming, Florey and Chan received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1945.
Fleming did not patent penicillin, hoping that this would help to develop the product as a cheap and effective drug.
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