Thursday, July 24, 2014

Manhattan gave the world the first life-saving penicillin shot - as well as the first death-dealing A-Bomb

Don't let terrorists like Ramzi Yousef limit Manhattan's wartime role to killing (and here I quote his justification for blowing up the twin towers of the World Trade Centre) "250,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki".

Let us never forget that Manhattan also gave the world its first ever penicillin shots 75 years ago next year.

New York then went on to provide the wartime world with the biggest chunk of its life saving penicillin and in the process developed the new micro-engineering  technology used by all the world ever since to make all antibiotics.

It did so by returning to 'the stone the (British) builders had rejected' ---- and made it the cornerstone of our world of antibiotic lifesavers.

Alexander Fleming in London had discovered penicillin 12 years earlier but had decided it would only be useful if made as a patentable man-made economical synthetic and even then only useful as a surface antiseptic - not in an internally-oriented pill or needle.

Howard Florey in Oxford had taken up Fleming's challenge and for a decade his team chased the chimera of man-made patentable economical man-made penicillin - but they never succeeded and no one else ever has.

New York went back to Fleming's original semi-purified natural penicillin and ran with it - in five short weeks Dr Martin Henry Dawson's tiny team had obtained spores, grown it , concentrated it and tested it for toxicity (on Dawson himself).

Now the team was ready to give it to patients dying of then invariable fatal subacute bacterial endocarditis (SBE) for lack of it - a young black man from Sugar Hill, Harlem named Aaron Alston and a young Jewish man named Charles Aronson from the Bronx.

SBE patients were then considered the 4Fs of the 4Fs and not a priority to an Anglo-American medical establishment using the excuse of war preparation to curtail social medicine (medicine directed at the poor and minorities).

So the day Dawson picked for history's first penicillin shots couldn't have been more freighted in symbolism.

It was October 16th 1940 - the historic first day of America's draft registration process - a process still going strong 75 years later.

So on a day when all the minds of America and of the Allied and Axis world were focussed on whether or not the hardships of the Great Depression had reduced America's numbers of 1A fit-for-combat youth , a 4F black man and Jew got to make their own history  in a quiet corner of upper Manhattan's Columbia University Medical Centre...

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