On September 28, 1928, the Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming developed, from a chance discovery, penicillin, the most widely used antibiotic in the world.
Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming.
Diseases that now are little more than conditions that last a couple of days, ninety years ago could be fatal, since the complication of a simple sore throat, whose infection spread to the lungs, caused death.
Born in the Ayrshire region, in the Scottish southwest, on August 6, 1881, Fleming moved to London at the age of thirteen, where he began his medical studies and, after graduating in 1906, began his research work together with the pioneer in vacc ines Almroth Wright, his mentor at St Mary’s Hospital in the British capital.
The young Fleming interrupted his career during World War I to serve in the Army Medical Corps, after which he returned to his post at St Mary.
There, where he had a reputation for not being too careful with the hygiene of his material, he made one of the great discoveries in the history of medicine.
In 1928, after returning from a two-week rest period, he observed how mold had grown a fungus on one of his staph cultures, but while bacteria were everywhere on the plate, none grew around it.
This fungus, which is known as Penicillium notatum, allowed the scientist to develop penicillin, a group of antibiotics from the group of beta-lactams that are widely used in the treatment of infections.
The use of penicillin spread from 1942 when the American pharmaceutical industry began to mass produce it and it was key in the treatment of the sick during World War II.
The drug was able to greatly reduce the risk of fatal infections, allowing doctors to carry out more invasive treatments that made it possible to save more lives.
In general terms, its discovery meant a drastic change for modern medicine, since it marked the beginning of the era of antibiotics, which together with the discovery of other antibiotics such as streptomycin, used for the treatment of tuberculosis, allowed a great advance in the field of medicine.
The Scottish scientist also discovered the antimicrobial enzyme known as lysozyme that acts against infections.
However, his most important finding did not give him all the prominence that might be expected, since when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945, he shared it with scientists Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey, responsible for developing penicillin as a medicine. .
Fleming wrote numerous articles on immunology and chemotherapy and became Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology at the University of London in 1948.
He was also elected a member of the Royal Society in 1943 and made a knight of the kingdom a year later.