Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gotham's wartime unfits rescued natural lifesaving penicillin-for-all

Wartime Gotham's concrete jungle was crawling with comic book Super Heroes and their opponents.

After all ,most of today's best known super heroes were created during the war years.

These Super Heroes did their stuff on some very mean streets that also managed to look a whole lot like the actual streets of Manhattan , circa 1940.

(And more than seventy five years later, they still do !)

I find it hard to feel totally upbeat about Super Heroes - they hold too many overtones of 1940 Hitler's Ubermensch to make me very comfortable.

I can't accept that people who aren't physically extraordinary - or indeed not even ordinarily physical fit - can't make perfectly good heroes.

In fact, I'd argue their task of heroism is much harder to achieve .

because they are not blessed with either Superman's gift of super-special physical powers or Batman's extraordinary-honed human skills (and wealth).

In that same concrete jungle that was 1940 Gotham for example ,Dr Henry Dawson's team of unfits could hardly muster a half dozen ordinarily full functioning limbs between them.

But who can say than anything morally greater ever came out of WWII's bad news war than their unlikely success in rescuing natural lifesaving penicillin-for-all from the meanness of the Allied medical-scientific establishment?

Friday, August 29, 2014

1929 : Penicillin discovery announced in journal NATURE , world aroused

What would Alexander Fleming's historical report on penicillin have looked like if he had decided to see it published in LANCET, BMJ or the journal NATURE ?

My guess is that would only have happened if one of his junior team members - acting against Fleming's express orders - had injected a sick mouse with his penicillin juice and found that contrary to the boss's "opinion" , the mouse was cured.

Fleming would swallow his anger , and adopt a much more positive view of his new medicine and seek a more positive tone to describe it , in a much more important journal.

Instead he mentally damned its application as an internal (ie life saving ) medicine for all eternity , damned even its use as an antiseptic unless first synthesized and  so decided to bury his report of a new discovery in a new - relatively obscure - Britain-circulating-only - journal ....

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How New York rescued natural life-saving penicillin-for-all from Alexander Fleming

If you are Alexander Fleming you only have to make three big mistakes to win a Nobel prize and eternal acclaim.

Mistake one : insist that penicillin will never be a success unless man first synthesizes it.

(We're still waiting !)

Mistake two : insist that penicillin will never work if taken internally but will only work as a topical antiseptic.

(In fact, penicillin really only works when taken internally, as an antibiotic, to save lives while as an antiseptic it may actually impede healing of minor scrapes and cuts.)

Mistake three : go along with the Churchill government's decision to only make enough wartime penicillin to help frontline Allied forces with wounds moderate enough to be likely to quickly return to battle.

(When America's New Deal-oriented WPB (War Production Board) decided to mass produce wartime natural penicillin, American diplomats were soon using that bounty to save lives (and win hearts and minds) all over the Allied, Neutral and Occupied world.

 Soon a Pax Americana (Pax Penicillia ?) was replacing a century-old Pax Britannica.)

By contrast , on October 16th 1940 , Gotham City's Dr Henry Dawson set out to challenge these three tenets of fellow Scot Alexander Fleming, line by line.

In just five weeks, he read an early - vague -report on penicillin, located some spores, grew them, tested them on himself for toxicity and then gave the world's first ever "crude" natural antibiotic shots.

To two young men dying of SBE , a then invariably fatal form of endocarditis.

(A) Dawson was never shy about admitting that his penicillin shots were not 100% synthetical pure or even 100% naturally pure.

In fact he was the first to label his type of penicillin as 'crude' and natural --- and the label stuck.

(B) Crude or not, he had shown that natural penicillin was non toxic - in fact far less toxic than the conventional alternative, the sulfa drugs. So why not use it internally , to save lives ?

(C) Social Medicine (a sort of 1930s version of Obamacare) was in the Fall of 1940 being destroyed by conservatives under the guise of War medicine.

War medicine's eugenic claim (the same claim as Hitler made on the first day of WWII) was that we couldn't afford to waste precious medicine on useless 4Fs when our precious 1A soldiers need all our help.

Top of the list among the 4Fs to be Code Slow-ed to death by war medicine's Death Panels were the SBEs - which is why Dawson so insolently chose the SBEs as the ones he gave history's first penicillin needles to.

To make the sting of his rebuke even more obvious, he gave those historic needles to these '4Fs of the 4Fs' on the very day that America was conducting its very first peacetime draft registration, seeking out all of its 1As.

As is well known, Alexander Fleming's synthetic penicillin laid a big egg .

So it was left to the NYC firm that had most bought into Dawson's vision, Pfizer (then a modestly sized supplier to the soda pop industry) to supply 80% of the penicillin landed on D-Day - in fact to supply most of the world's penicillin during WWII.

And that is how New York rescued the miracle of penicillin from the man who found it - like an unwanted gift - on his desk 16 years earlier...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Manhattan Natural : wartime Gotham's un-super heroes ...

At a time (WWII) when comic book superheroes , usually operating in a make-believe Manhattan, were saving the world every day and enthralling North American children and youth , lesser known but equally larger-than-life actual heroics were taking place in a real Manhattan.

But these valiants bringing natural penicillin lifesaving to the world against government blowback were hardly Superman or indeed any sort of superheroes .

If by the term 'superhero' we mean someone strong in body as well as mind.

They were un-super heroes if ever than phrase had meaning.

They were more like a badly aged Clark Kent , still mild and meek  but now weak and crippled .

They never numbered more than a handful :  misfits , unfits and just plain rebels.

They were aptly described by the official historian of their arch enemy  , Vannevar Bush's OSRD , as "4Fs, women and the Grace of God".

Henry and Marjorie Dawson, Floyd Odlum, Dante Colitti, Thomas Hunter, Charlie and Miss H --- they hardly had more than a handful of really good limbs between the seven of them.

'Unfits' the whole lot of them - the very 4Fs of the 4Fs - yet real life heroes despite all that .

Perhaps we could still make use of their story - as a sort of role model - by making a series of comic books or graphic novels about their wartime exploits ...

Blog's background tiled image is of the oppressive walls of CUMC circa 1928

I am trying to think of visual ways to convey the sheer unexpectedness of the wartime triumph of Manhattan natural penicillin.

What tab-dropping novelist would ever dare suggest that the attempts to create artificial penicillin blossomed in Oxford University's leafy green setting while the successful effort to bring naturally grown penicillin to the world's dying would emerge from Gotham's concrete jungle ?

Even Superman and Spider Man might be taken back to think something as green as natural penicillin would actually bloom among Gotham City's concrete skyscrapers.

When we think of NYC 's biggest private sector employers we probably  think first of finance's Wall Street, advertising's Madison Avenue, fashion's Seventh Avenue, or of broadway theatres, publishing and media headquarters.

But actually NYC's largest private sector employer is a hospital : the world famous CUMC (Columbia University Medical Center) with its thousands of high tech beds and its tens of thousands of daily outpatient visitors.

And so it was that one of 1940 Manhattan's most impressive concrete skylines wasn't set in Midtown at all.

Instead that vista was the sight of CUMC's massed hospital windows set into concrete, endlessly repeating row on row on row.

It certainly helped that Columbia Presbyterian  had an inherently dramatic location (by design) -- boldly sited high on top of a hill of sheer rock in uppermost Manhattan.

In this unlikely setting, this high tech concrete jungle , this modernist temple to reductionist chemistry , Dr Henry Dawson's tiny team tried to set up 700 two litre flasks of natural penicillium spores - all in the face of passive resistance from CUMC's ever-forward-thinking administrators.

About the best way to kill penicillium is to jostle it from room to room to room and that is exactly what the administrators ensured would happen.

Every other professor seemed to have a higher priority than Dawson on the dean's list of potential labs , so that every vacant room he secured as a nursery for his green friends had to be quickly given up.

Finally , he got use of the tiny space beneath each student's seat in the hospital's big two storey teaching amphitheatre.

The warmth from the butt of each slumbering early morning male med student became like a brood hen to the delicate charges below.

(I am not making this stuff up !)

In typical New York City fashion, even the fire escapes were put to good use - used to let the arid pungent smell of penicillium juice waft out onto Broadway crowds rather than to offend the sensitive noses of the hospital's bosses.

A decidedly concrete jungle setting for an early post-modern attempt to return to a new relationship with Mother Nature.

To help convey the overwhelmingly oppressive sight of CUMC's walls , where even a top surgeon - let alone a humble patient or penicillium spore - is but a mere cog , I  made a tile out of a tiny fragment from an old 1928 era photograph of CUMC.

That tile is now the oppressive concrete jungle backdrop to this blog.

I know I can do much better - possibly by smearing a spot of green penicillium in the center of each window ?

We'll see...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Abundant Penicillin by 1942 - only if Howard Florey didn't come to America ?

When ,in April 1941, Howard Florey learned that his best shot at world acclaim (as the only begetter of systemic penicillin) was at risk because Henry Dawson had got there first, the old claim jumper boot scooted over to America to shake a little dust.

Unfortunately, while in America he met and bonded with an old friend, A Newton Richards, the chief medical advisor (sans MD degree !) to both Merck and the US government's war science research arm , Vannevar Bush's OSRD.

Together the pair agreed that most of the wartime penicillin effort should go into first synthesizing it - rather than merely scaling up existing natural penicillin fermentation technology and getting penicillin to the military and civilian patients dying for lack of it - now.

Richards (who never met a conflict of interest he didn't like) was mindful that Merck's cross harbour rival, Pfizer, was likely to be the big winner if natural fermentation - and not Merck's strength artificial synthesis - was used to produce this priceless new drug.

Left alone, Pfizer (with Henry Dawson's team assisting) was already on the way, during that Fall in 1941 , to producing enough penicillin to get the show on the road.

A pity then that Florey had to spoil the show ...

God knows what Henry Dawson did - even if Stockholm didn't

Sometimes people ask me if I think Henry Dawson should have gotten a Nobel Prize for his successful pushing of the wartime mass production of natural penicillin.

As is well known , the Nobel Prize went instead to Howard Florey (and Ernst Chain and Alexander Fleming) despite the abject failure of their alternative wartime synthetic penicillin effort.

(But because so many of Stockholm's Nobel choices have been equally flawed, you can at least praise them for consistency.)

I understand Dawson to be a modest and humble man and I believe he would have regarded his saving of lives as reward enough.

Besides, I explain, Britain really needed a consolation prize (the Nobel) to cheer it up in late 1945.

The UK was depressed after winning a war but then being forced to see massive amounts of Manhattan Natural penicillin liberally used by American diplomats to save the lives of countless people in Neutral and Liberated countries overseas.

Because, at the time, Britain (the discoverer but not the developer of penicillin) didn't really have enough penicillin for its own Commonwealth troops - let alone to give to British civilians at home or for foreigners abroad.

Churchill's moral failure over penicillin

This was solely a moral failure - not a technical failure - of the Churchill-led government.

Because America had just as many Big Pharma firms , scientists and government bureaucrats as the UK equally convinced that it was better (a) to wait for synthetic penicillin and (b) to restrict production to immediate military use only.

And both nations basically had access to the same advanced level of penicillin technology or could easily afford to license it - if they choose.

But fortunately for wartime humanity , a few - a very few - American firms, scientists and bureaucrats felt differently from the majority of their Allied comrades.

Thanks to Henry Dawson's constant prodding , the top man at both the New Dealerish WPB (War Production Board) and Pfizer saw the need for the production of enough penicillin - now ! - to heal all those in a world at war who were dying for lack of it.

As Pfizer's natural penicillin took off on countless overseas mercy missions it slowly but surely produced a new Pax Americana that gradually drove out the century old Pax Britannica.

All the global goodwill towards Britain built up while The Few held off the Nazi bombers alone was thus lost in an diplomatic instant.

All because Churchill's government was unwilling to see any more badly needed penicillin plants built -- not if it meant even as few as one less heavy bomber squadron was commissioned.

Penicillin was a total disaster for the British Tories - it might have even cost them the 1945 General Election - but it was also a disaster solely of their own making ...

Wartime Oxford : the planned capital of a racially pure Nazi Britain ---- and of chemically pure penicillin

Hitler never seriously tried to bomb Oxford England , despite its very militarily important engineering works.

The often made claim that Howard Florey had to give penicillin away to America because he was bombed out of Oxford by the Blitz is made only by his American fans - even his most ardent British fans weren't ever that thick.

After all , they had survived life in British cities enduring the various Nazi bombing efforts and at the time had greatly envied Oxford's well known gilded wartime immunity.

The story is that Hitler saw Oxford as having successfully taught the Anglo-Saxon cum Aryan elite racial truths for almost a millennium (it may in fact be the world's oldest surviving university) and so it seemed to him to be the one place in Britain that most held aloft his biological political values.

Britain's elite vigorously resented Hitler's high opinion of Oxford University in his vision of the world back then - and continue to do ever since.

(Rarely do they ask why working class Britons also view Oxford as the very essence of pure Anglo Saxon privilege.)

Florey and purity - racial and chemical

Howard Florey won't have taken even a top job at NYC's Columbia University - no matter how big the salary and how big the size of his lab.

He hated Manhattan with a passion - he saw its concrete jungle as dirty, noisy, crowded and filled with Jews, catholic Italians and blacks.

By contrast, he clearly viewed becoming a full Oxford Professor of a named chair and director of an Oxford institute as meaning he had reached the near top of the Anglo Saxon intellectual ladder.

This is indicated by the fact that as soon as his position was secure, he felt he could finally return with his head held high to the Australia he had fled 15 years earlier - after his father had disgraced the family name.

So, on an ancient site where students had been taught for almost a millennium , his dreams of a chemical penicillin tomorrow first soared.

And it was here - amidst Oxford University's fabled green splendor - that his visions of the man-made, the artificial and of the synthetic pure flourished the most extravagantly.

Oxford Refined - clearly for Florey - and for Hitler - more than just an accent ...

Connecting New York's PENICILLIN dots ...

Some authors are content to merely describe a long series of coincidental dots ---- other authors like to investigate to see if anything connects all those coincidental dots.

I am one of the latter : as many a TV police detective is fond of saying , my motto is "I don't believe in coincidences."

When I fell upon the story of Henry Dawson and wartime penicillin, I noticed that most of the twenty or so full length accounts of wartime penicillin always included the awkward fact that he (and not their hero Howard Florey) was the one to give history's first ever penicillin shots.

They briefly described that first needle in a sentence or paragraph or page or two --- and then always go on quickly to say that Dawson himself was dying of a terminal illness - 'so necessarily passes out of our story'.

The rest of their three hundred or page accounts have nothing further about Dawson's team.

Clearly they mentally needed a way to dispose of Dawson (his convenient terminal illness) without seriously engaging his team's more than five years of involvement with penicillin.

They already had a preconceived shape to their biography of Florey and so they mentally hardly wanted to investigate Dawson's story any further --- less it ruined their story's trim panty lines.

Dawson did indeed die from his illness - but that was only at the end of April 1945 , while his team effort can be said to have begun when team member Karl Meyer learned firsthand of Florey's successful curing of infected mice in the early summer of 1940 from Florey ex-team member Leslie Epstein (Falk).

Dawson in fact kept very active in pioneering penicillin work right up to his death.

His team - in particular Gladys Hobby at Pfizer and Thomas hunter at Columbia - continued to do important work with penicillin for a few more years , even after the war's end.

Now what struck me with the force of a hammer in the first few days of my research - even back ten years ago when I knew almost nothing about wartime penicillin - was the amazing number of truly significant events in the penicillin story that had happened in the New York City area.

And that they all seemed to be of a similar type - let us simply describe them as all taking a similarly non-conventional approach to solving the penicillin supply issue.

Set against the relatively inactivity of a similar nature from the other 1990 million other human beings on earth in 1940 , they certainly seemed statistically odd beyond measure to be unconnected.

Since Dawson was both the first and the most active of these NYC inside agitators , I began seeking out possible links between him (or his team members) and these other New York penicillin efforts.

I quickly found many, many direct connections - and am still doing so.

Who - just for a minor example - would have ever thought that Dr Anne Fulcher Hunter had both a husband (Thomas Hunter) working with Dawson at the heart of the natural penicillin effort at Columbia and a half brother (Donald Melville) working at the heart of the opposing synthetic penicillin effort with Vincent du Vigneaud at Cornell ?

Heatedly interesting discussions indeed around her family dinner table !

My book will make the case that Dawson's passion inspired many New York scientists and businessmen to step out of their conventional skins for once in their lives to try something very risky and yet very morally worthy.

Most of these people would probably freely admit that their wartime Dawson-inspired penicillin adventures were the high points of their careers and indeed of their entire lives.

So I will fully structure my book around Dawson and NYC, but unlike previous books, I will not damn contrasting efforts by a single sentence-paragraph-page of faint praise.

Florey, Fleming, the OSRD and Merck will all get plenty of space to make their case for limiting wartime penicillin use to frontline Allied soldiers only - and that only after it had been first perfected as a patentable synthetic analogue.

I will leave it to the reader (and to God) to decide which side made the better moral case ...

Penicillin Story's irony : the natural effort came from the concrete jungle while the artificial effort flourished amidst greenery

What acid-dropping fiction-writing fabulist would ever dare suggest that WWII's successful natural penicillin efforts would emerge from Manhattan's concrete jungle while the failed attempt to make artificial penicillin would flourish amidst Oxford University's greenery ?

As we fans of G K Chesterton are so fond of asserting : why write humdrum fiction , when ordinary life is so much more extraordinary ?

Fortunately for me , I've still got this story to myself , seventy five years after the event --- possibly because no previous writer on wartime penicillin had Chesterton's acute sense for sensing life's funny little ironies...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Manhattan Natural : green Life-Saving , from the concrete jungle ...

The urban jungle that is Manhattan, with all its concrete skyscrapers, should be the very last place on earth where one might expect to see the start of a turning away from the Modern obsession with the artificial and the synthetic and a turn to the Postmodernity's renewed relationship with Nature.

But Manhattan is in fact the place where the wartime mass production of  natural penicillin - with all that momentous decision's consequences for postmodernity - actually began .

Fiction's drive for the smooth closure of all narrative lines demands that penicillin discoverer Alexander Fleming (in his brand new 1931 hospital factory) should have been the first one to grow the green stuff in amounts sufficient to begin to save the world's fatally infected - but he didn't.

Manhattan Natural -- fermenting a life-saving revolution from the concrete jungle

Instead it was Columbia's Martin Henry Dawson and Pfizer's John L Smith that rose to World War Two's moral challenges.

And very soon it was postmodern natural penicillin from Manhattan's concrete jungle that was radiating hope all around a war-shattered world --- while Fleming and Florey's modern artificial penicillin from leafy-green Oxford University never even got off the drawing board.

natural from concrete --- artificial from greenery

The natural from concrete and the artificial from green : life is filled with ironies isn't it ?

So why should I ever think of writing 'mere fiction' ?

No novel-writing for me - not when the extraordinary truth is so much stranger than any fantasied fiction....

Chemistry PhD = Hubris ?

As penicillium mold spores drift about through the air, the fortunate ones land on a suitably moist food supply.

The spores almost need the moisture more than the food , as they can feed on almost any organic matter.

But when they get stressed, usually when the food supply runs low , they may respond by producing the antibiotics we rather loosely call by the single word 'penicillin' , to keep at bay bacterial competitors for that same food.

Note I said antibiotics in the plural, because, depending on the particular food source at hand, each penicillin produced might be in fact ever so slightly different.

Technically, the key part of the penicillin molecule - the famous strained beta lactam ring - must always be there , for it to work as a antibiotic .

But the extra bit on the side of that key component - the side chain - can vary widely and will tend to produce various kinds and strengths of antibiotics.

Many of them offer different - useful - qualities - from the original penicillin (type G).

Now, in Nature , all these marvellous variants are mere happy accidents induced by the chance of varying wind currents and drifting spores.

In the Lab, biologists and chemists feed the penicillium spores all sorts of extra food treats , (fancied up ,the technical word for these humble food supplements is precursors) hoping to see a useful variant emerge.

When the new improved variants do emerge , the chemists tend to glorify this 'brute force' approach to the discovery of new chemicals by daring to call the results "semi-synthetic" penicillin.

But this just hubris and hooey.

It is merely a way for human chemists - who tried and failed to make penicillin from scratch* like the tiny mold spores so readilyand so easily did - to regain some lost luster for their profession.

(*To chemists , this is their holy grail of  "total synthesis".)

Because it is really no different than the ancient practise of farmers trying out plants on differing soil mixtures and cultivation techniques and running with the methods that gave the best yields.

The chemists, rather like the British , lost really big in WWII.

Partly to physics (the A-Bomb) and partly to biology (natural penicillin triumphing over the chemists' failure to make synthetic penicillin) .

And like the British, they've been trying to re-write the history of WWII ever since ....

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Time to end the much-told cover-up of UNSUCCESSFUL wartime penicillin and tell the untold tale of SUCCESSFUL wartime penicillin

Against about fifty previous books about wartime penicillin , I want my penicillin book to do something wildly different --- I want to celebrate success, not cover-up failure.

If the wartime deployment of penicillin was ultimately successful (and everybody seems to agree it was) what exactly did this successful  penicillin look like?

It turns out it actually was :

(a)  naturally made penicillin - not man made.

(b) and (via exports of massive amounts of American penicillin under Lend-Lease and other programs), it was made available to all in the wartime world dying from any and all diseases it could cure - not just reserved for a relatively small number of frontline Allied soldiers judged capable of returning to immediate combat, if given penicillin.

Ie , what successful wartime penicillin definitely was not, was synthesized and weaponized.

I am writing this book because I believe , 75 years after the start of wartime penicillin , it is overdue time to finally have a long, hard and brutally honest look at the actual record of the people and institutions universally regarded as the heroes of wartime penicillin.

Chief among them - by general consensus - are Fleming, Florey along with the MRC and the Ministry of Supply in Britain.

 In America : the OSRD-CMR, NRRL chief Coghill , Merck Inc and the NAS-COC .

Yet all these heroes spent the entire war stridently opposed both to (a) the immediate mass production of naturally made penicillin and (b) its wartime production in quantities sufficient for all dying for lack of it in the world .

If they be the 'heroes' of wartime penicillin , it hardly needed villains !

By contrast , institutions like the British Royal Navy, Glaxo , Pfizer , the WPB and people like Dawson , Demerec , Pulvertaft and Duhig rate a paragraph (or at best , a page or two) in even lengthy accounts of wartime penicillin.

Yet these people and institutions strongly promoted the immediate wartime mass production of naturally produced penicillin for all  - and then set out and did it - they made the successful version of wartime penicillin.

They did not advocate holding off on the wartime production of badly needed penicillin until it had been totally synthesized at commercial prices (something that hasn't happened yet).

Nor did they advocate that wartime penicillin be only used for those who were moderately injured, among the frontline Allied troops.

All these people and institutions shared one more thing in common (besides achieving the only universally popular scientific success of WWII).

They were not part of the Anglo-American medical-scientific establishment.

Thus they did not have privileged access (during the crucial years of 1944-1948) to information still labelled secret and only released - on a highly selective basis - in self-serving official histories that successfully polished the turd that was the total failure of weaponized synthetic penicillin.

It was not until 1972, with Lennard Bickel's invaluable book "RISE UP TO LIFE" , that many of the secrets of wartime penicillin began to be revealed - at least to the majority of the world that looked to British-oriented authors to explain penicillin.

Bickel was actually merely trying to boost credit to Howard Florey over that given to Alexander Fleming, but his book was just late enough to avoid the strictures of wartime secrecy and just early enough to interview many penicillin pioneers before they died.

And his account tried very hard to balance the British-oriented accounts published to date with information about lesser known but very important penicillin efforts around the world.

But Bickel , like all others to date, did not set  WPB-Pfizer-Glaxo natural penicillin in total opposition to OSRD-Merck-Oxford synthetic penicillin.

Rather, like all accounts of the atomic Manhattan Project, he sees them as being equally funded, equally ardently pushed parallel efforts towards a common (time-sensitive) goal.

But in the case of the atomic bomb , the documentary record is very clear - almost any and all ways that might help to make enough nuclear material for even a few bombs before the war's end were massively funded and whipped into a flurry of activity by General Groves .

So for example,  a trillion dollar (in 2014 dollars) gaseous diffusion production plant were built as fast as possible , before any pilot plant had even shown that particular process might work !

Even so, America only got enough weapon material for just two small bombs a scant month before Japan surrendered.

By contrast, natural penicillin's breakthrough technology ( a repeated process of selecting the best natural mutations of the penicillium mold, radiating them to produce more mutations and so on) only required a few biologists working a few months at a cost of a few thousands of dollars.

Thanks to this breakthrough, most countries outside of the USA successfully provide much of their wartime penicillin needs with a scaled up version of the primitive technology that Fleming first used - and rejected - way back in 1928 !

Only a political and moral unwillingness to create more of these primitive factories kept the UK, Canada and Australia from supplying all possible needs with scaled up 1928 technology.

It was the WPB's totally unknown OPRD , a latecomer to the penicillin effort , that quickly and cheaply made penicillin production with mutated natural penicillin such a success that we still produce all the world's antibiotics the same way to this day.

It was clear in the case of penicillin that almost everyone (outside our valiant few) from government ministers to newspaper reporters to ordinary GP doctors to Big Pharma, felt that penicillin was going to have to be first made synthetically to make enough for a wartime world and that this event was going to be quickly achieved.

(At the same time, I should say that most of the synthetic advocates generally didn't know the full extent of the intention to weaponize penicillin and that thankfully many seemed to oppose that idea when its morally repugnant nature was made clearer.)

Efforts to synthesize penicillin were fully backed by the British and American medical scientific establishment while efforts to push natural penicillin production that came from people like Cold Spring Harbour Lab chief Miloslav Demerec and Glaxo's boss Harry Jephcott were rebuffed by that same elite.

Spurred by the efforts of Dr Dawson , Dr Dante Colitti got  he Hearst media empire to rouse the Dr Moms of the world with the plight of baby Patty Malone.

Even the powerful men running the Anglo-American medical-scientific establishment (& Big Pharma) momentarily quailed before the uproar from Dr Mom , but soon they returned to pushing for perfected synthetic penicillin before seeking any all-out production.

But Big Pharma was not totally united - one man within its ranks differed - and sometimes one individual is more than enough to change a whole world.

John L Smith, boss of Pfizer, was prompted by his own Dr Mom - his wife - to connect Patty Malone to the death of his own daughter - a death that Fleming could have helped prevent if only he had promoted - rather than negating - penicillin by needle.

As an ordinary patriotic American , Smith also knew D-Day was due soon.  Unlike ordinary Americans, he also knew that only penicillin could prevent the war deaths by infection the sulfa drugs were no longer effective against.

Like General Groves on steroids, Smith whipped Pfizer employees to produce tons of penicillin - now ! - for D-Day and civilian patients.

In a surprisingly few months ( by the Spring of 1944) - Smith - thanks admittedly greatly to the timely efforts of Miloslav Demerec - had solved the world's penicillin crisis.

But the Anglo-American medical scientific establishment - as always with bureaucrats spending other peoples' money - kept pushing hard on synthetic penicillin for two more wasted years.

Their Plan B ( eventually employed) was to push the Big Half Truth that they were always fully behind natural penicillin from 1939 onward and were merely held up by the pesky penicillium spores themselves.

In fact,  the only way they could think to totally synthesize artificial penicillin was to repeatedly destroy massive amounts of natural penicillin and then examine the resulting entrails.

Thus they did in fact support the limited production of natural penicillin - all through the war - but mostly for their chemists to destroy and then analysis - not to give to any and every patient dying for lack of it.

Shamefully, academic historians have let them get away with this particular Big Half Truth ever since ....

Thursday, August 21, 2014

NATURAL vs SYNTHETIC ---- what war time audiences were really talking about when they talked about penicillin

My book "MANHATTAN NATURAL" isn't really a book about wartime penicillin --- there have already been dozens of those , all claiming they've covered the waterfront thoroughly.

Instead it is a book about the deep emotional wellsprings wartime audiences were inadvertently revealing as they debated whether or not "crude natural penicillin, now !" was preferable to "pure synthetic penicillin (maybe) sometime in the future".

So I have drawn great inspiration from Klaus Theweleit's classic "MALE FANTASIES".

In particular, I admire his bravery in speculating widely and wildly about the connections between post-WWI trashy/sub-literate Freikorps novels and the mindset of Modernity itself - and not just as Modernity as manifest in the Nazi regime.

Author Thomas Hager (in his DEMON UNDER THE MICROSCOPE) quotes Nobel winning biologist Peter Medawar as recalling wartime chemists dismissing natural penicillin as sort of dire relic from the Dark Ages, peasant medicine made by witches brewing it up in cauldrons in dark hidden basements somewhere.

This association of basements and working class rural uneducated women and natural penicillin runs right through almost every penicillin book - particularly in the selection of illustrations.

Photos of working class women are shown growing natural penicillin in dark deep dank cellars versus news-story-and-ad illustrations of educated men in white coats doing penicillin chemistry in pristine labs or turning electronic dials in porcelain white deep tank penicillin factories.

Briton Ronald Hare , a former co-worker of Fleming who had already had his own run-ins with Howard Florey in mid-1941 over his employer (Toronto's Connaught Labs) unwillingness to grow penicillin for Florey.

Now in late 1943, Hare had his shining moment (much against his will) as Canada's chosen man to visit the American effort to grow massive amounts of natural penicillin.

His 1970 book , THE BIRTH OF PENICILLIN , reflects none of the new PC-ness of that period.

His book is brisk, witty, vivid , wise but it sometimes jars - never more so than when he talks of visiting a penicillin plant in Brooklyn.

Wild emotion bubbles forth from deep inside his Edwardian childhood as he babbles about giant negresses labouring deep in the Stygian (Hades or underworld) gloom.

Penicillium juice (the original penicillin was not today's drug but rather the mostly water-based liquid that the penicillium mold had grown in) was widely - if incorrectly - seen by most scientists and doctors simply as the daily waste byproducts of slimy mold.

The fungus were known to 'foul their own nests' (as do all non-mobile micro beings) and the liquid itself was coloured a thick bright yellow very much like a mixture of baby poop and pee.

(Actually the drug penicillin itself is only produced by the fungus when it is stressed - usually when its food source is in short supply and it needs to keep bacterial competitors at bay.)

There is a long folk association of women as being at one with the dark wet places and processes located below the belt .

An association of women with the primitive, the emotional and irrational (intuition rather than logic), of the animal , of being putting on earth only to make babies and then change their nappies .

Set against it is the association of males as being above the belt - way above the belt - beings of the brain and the mind not of the heart and emotions, of mental processes not physical processes,creatures of urban civilization rather than of rural and animal like settings.

So we only see women workers in penicillin stories as the ones nurturing baby penicillium spores in dark dank basements, collecting basement slime mold poop.

By contrast, the men are always in white lab coats worked in pristine labs thoughtfully examining the contents of a chemical beaker while puffing thoughtfully on a pipe.

Klaus Theweleit would have no problem understanding why natural penicillin slime poop juice was not injected into the pristine temples of the human body to save lives for twelve wasted years - and still not widely used for another five to ten years.

He'd see it as much as about men fearing women as in collective humanity fearing the (non-existent) toxicity of natural penicillin.

Thomas Hager again : Nobel winning Gerhard Domagk from Germany spent two years after penicillin's triumph in 1945 still trying to prove that his man-made chemical synthetic sulfa drugs were far superior to this naturally produced slime poop.

One can imagine Domagk fuming that it is impossible for any primitive slimy creature from the deep to be smarter than the best of civilized mankind from the land that gave the world Mozart , Beethoven, Goethe, Kant and Hegel.

Put that way, one wonders why a cheap horror movie was never made in the Fifties about the penicillium slime that took over the world , roused from the dank depths by a massive atomic explosion.

Maybe they already have . And again. And yet again.

Now natural penicillin-hater Howard Florey never saw a b-grade horror movie in his life but he too shared this widely held horror at the sight or thought of slime .

Why ?

Klaus Theweleit again : the core of Modernity was a fear of the loss of firm borders - with littoral substances like mud and slime being at the symbolic heart of that phobia.

Littoral as in being neither 100% liquid or 100% solid but having indefinitely varying qualities of both.

Clever slime from the muddy depths was this phobia - in spades - and no wonder it made teeners quake with fear at a 1954 drive-in as much as it made Florey quake with fear at a natural penicillin nursery in 1944.

Now I think the explanation for the sharp rise of this slime phobia was the the plenitude of experiences thrown up in the explosive birth of Modern Global Progress in the very few years between 1875 and 1915.

I do not think any set of humans has ever experienced as much rapid and extensive change as the people living through that period did.

They reacted badly much of the time - rabid racism and eugenics being only part of their response.

Not nice, not acceptable but understandable.

And innocent life-saving penicillin simply got caught in the cross hairs....

The rise of post-modern NATURAL penicillin and the fall of modern synthetic penicillin

I like writers who take chances. 

Writers like Aaron Bobrow-Strain (White Bread) and Christina Cogdell (Eugenic Design) and Jeffrey Meikle (American Plastic).

All three did the long hard work to tease out the incredibly subtle and unconscious ways that very powerful (and powerfully weird) intellectual memes became incorporated into the ways our grandparents thought about seemingly ordinary things like bread , dinner plates and the design of toilets.

I have much less respect for writers who gets an unique chance to plod for years through a hundred linear feet of documents from an un-studied institution or individual and comes up with fascinating and important studies.

I mean I love to read this stuff and I know that converting it all into a coherent narrative is very hard work .


But no where as hard as writing so well that even skeptics come to feel what these writers felt when they first sensed that there just must be some sort of a connection between the twin 1910s obsessions for all-white bread and for an all-white America.

Rendering intangible gut feelings into tangible limpid prose is never easy.

I feel my own book (Manhattan Natural) is a sort of part two to Bobrow-Strain's book in particular.

Bobrow-Strain's book shows the 'with it' Modern people of the 1930s priding themselves that they only ate factory made, pre-sliced, bleached white bread.

Just as their equally 'with it' post-Modern grandchildren today are applauding themselves - with just as much vigour - for only eating un-store-sliced whole wheat bread kneaded by bare hands in a small corner bakery.

I want to suggest why and exactly when that consensus among the intellectual elite began to change --- how it changed with (or caused ?) the change of eras from Modernity to post-Modernity.

And it too involves a busily fermenting little fungus : but penicillin's penicillium chrysogenum rather than bread and beer's  saccharomyces cerevisiae.....

A-Bomb and Penicillin secrets 'Hidden in Plain Sight' : un-redacting wartime Manhattan's two "Projects"

The structure of my drama in five acts, "Manhattan Natural" (the other Manhattan Project) , has one obvious influence --- the efforts of science historian Robert S Norris to destroy the oldest and biggest myth of wartime's Atomic Bomb.

Norris , in "The Manhattan Project" (published by Black Dog and Leventhal) , first recounts the usual version of this pernicious myth.

We all know - vaguely - how it goes.

To misdirect curiosity away from all the secret atomic research going on in a remote desert location in the empty dusty American South West, the entire Project was supposedly - and very cleverly - given the title of that location's geographical and cultural opposite.

So the rural-focused A-bomb project was named after the most urban location in the world - Manhattan Island, with all its skyscrapers, in the far off and crowded American North East, two thousand miles away.

Norris seeks to destroy this utter nonsense .

"The Purloined Bomb"

He hints that Edgar Allan Poe himself might have approved the truly audacious cleverness that lay behind the naming of the top secret atomic project.

Because the A-Bomb was actually a secret 'hidden in plain sight', just as in Poe's famous story, "The Purloined Letter".

The easy - cheap - fast - part of the entire atomic project was the basic science bits - the realm of atomic physicists as atomic physicists.

The truly difficult parts - consuming tons of money , man and woman power and  scarce time, were the engineering and manufacturing aspects- chemists and metallurgists playing key roles.

 (Along with the printers who made the boxes Chiclet chewing gum came in !)

Most of the physicists, most of the time, were hands on engineers in all but formal title.

And much of all that activity - along with a lot of the basic science - happened in America's industrial and technical heartland.

In 1940 , that was definitely centred around New York , not in some empty desert.

After reading Norris,  it is clear that any history of the wartime atomic bomb that never once mentions personalities, institutions and events in the greater NYC area would read like one of those 'forthright' investigative reports loved by the CIA and NSA  - all those reams of redacted paper more black than white.

Here is a link to a tour of all of the many Manhattan sites connected to the A-Bomb that he conducted with science reporter William J Broad of the New York Times.

( Equally interesting atomic tours could be conducted in the other boroughs, on Long island and in nearby communities in New Jersey and the Hudson Valley.)

I knew Norris's claim of the Manhattan-ness of the Manhattan Project to be even more profoundly true of 'The other Manhattan Project' :  the successful development of wartime natural penicillin.

After about one hundred big books on penicillin , something entirely new : an account of the one successful penicillin project , not another hagiographic account of Oxford penicillin's failed effort.

(The unsuccessful development of wartime natural penicillin's rival , synthetic penicillin , by way of pointed contrast, happened everywhere but NYC !)

A very interesting and historically accurate account of the development of successful wartime penicillin can be told by simply centring it in New York City with Dr Martin Henry Dawson's team.

Outlier chapters will be added as events - sparked by Dawson's efforts in Manhattan - gradually emerge elsewhere.

I intend to parallel the story of Dawson's project with my recalling of the New York City aspects of the story of the A-bomb.

(Albeit in much less detail than from scholars like Norris.)

All this designed to highlight the truly Janus-like nature of the mercurial and mysterious little island of Manhattan : always seemingly two parts Gordon Gekko and two parts Emma Lazarus ....

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Manhattan Indie PEN : penicillin misfits, unfits & rebels fermenting a revolution and renewing hope to a world tired, huddled and wretched

Today, words and phrases like "all-natural", "green" , "locally grown" and "no added chemicals" are such advertising cliches that it hard to believe there was a time , up to the end of WWII, when such phrases were totally anathema.

Back in that era , advertising cliches were more likely to invoke being chemically pure and to see being 100% synthetic , plastic and man-made as virtues to seek out.

But after Hiroshima , Auschwitz , Napalm and other WWII 'man-made wonders', these concepts very gradually fell out of vogue.

But at the beginning of WWII , they dominated thought in areas ordinarily seen as lying well beyond and above the thought behind popular magazine ads.

Areas such as the science of penicillin.

At a time - before as well as during the war - when only penicillin could save lives from some diseases , it seems incredible that medical researchers' aesthetic tastes could forestall the use of 'safe enough' indie PEN (crude penicillin juice) but it did - for 15 long, life-wasting years.

Before they'd be seen in public giving penicillin to the dying with no other alternative, most doctors wanted penicillin to be as pure as any chemical synthetic, as colorless and tasteless, and about as stable as any loaf of stabilizer-laced white bread could ever hope to be.

They'd rather inject almost any new manmade chemical into a human bloodstream before they would inject the life-saving juice from some bog-ordinary basement slime.

No slime from the basement of life on earth could possibly be better at saving lives than the PhD educated minds from the best Anglo Saxon universities in the land.

It was all a bit like letting your daughter date a Jew or a Negro.

Not done.

Today of course it is all totally different.

If people still don't want their daughters dating Jews or blacks, they have become smart enough not to say so in public.

And student numbers in chemistry degree programs have never been lower while biotechnology (with fermentation usually at the heart of its successes) is where all the graduates and jobs are at.

Manhattan Indie PEN

Manhattan Indie PEN - once only home to misfits, unfits and rebels has brewed up an intellectual storm so successfully that they have become the norm - with yesterday's rebels as today's bosses.....

1940s medical reformers' views on Indie PEN ("crude" penicillin) : 'about as safe as mother's milk ---- and equally unfashionable'

The aesthetic objections to live-saving Indie PEN

The medical reformers controlling the (glacial) pace of the mass introduction of penicillin (from 1928 to 1944) viewed the idea of saving the lives of dying patients with crude (Indie PEN) penicillin with the same sort of distaste they held towards mothers who still breastfed.

They all wanted penicillin that was first of all was pure and stable.

Some further wanted to wait until it was chemically synthesized (patentable) and many others wanted to keep it secret and limit it only for Allied wounded soldiers while the war raged.

And if countless patients died needlessly while they polished the turd - so be it .

The medical phobia against fresh bread

It was an age when all the best educated (with urban medical researchers often in the vanguard) sincerely believed that mothers who made biscuits on the kitchen stove right before her waiting children and then immediately fed it to them were endangering their health.

Much better to feed them factory made biscuits made two thousand miles away and stored for weeks in a warehouse, smothered in chemical preservatives.

For only the old fashioned rural poor still made 'fresh from the oven' home made bread and biscuits.

And all the best educated used baby formula - only country yokels would be so gauche as to breastfed a baby in public.

The less you needed to buy artificial vitamins , the more you bought of them

The best fed and best educated  - who could actually easily afford fresh oranges even when they were most expensive - prided themselves on not getting their daily vitamin C from impure fruit.

For mixed in with the pure vitamin C (that they preferred to get from synthetic pills) natural fruits contained all sorts of impurities.

(Impurities such as tasty juicy fruit sugar water, fibre and  traces of minerals and other vitamins.)

We today who are well educated - we who pride ourselves on our 'advanced thinking' - should view this all as a cautionary tale against the hubris of the well educated who don't realize the sharp limits to their very expensive educations.

But it does help explain the irrational phobias held by well educated doctors had so hampered the mass production of wartime's 'safe enough' penicillin .

Because even in 1944 and the introduction of mass penicillin - high quality commercial penicillin was still at best 85% dross and 15% pure penicillin.

Vincent Duhig, unsung hero of Indie PEN movement

Again, as late as 1944, Vincent Duhig , one of the least known heroes of the Indie PEN movement, was still saving lives with injections of penicillin that were 99.99% dross and one part in a ten thousand pure penicillin.

That is food grade medicine - some cooked fruits and vegetables deliver vitamin C in those same (extraordinarily low) ratios.

But we don't inject those foods directly into a patient's bloodstream via an IV drip.

But that is what Duhig dared to do - plucking a dozen lives back from the grave - patients considered so far gone that all the other doctors permitted Duhig's 'mad' scheme , as a sort of a patient's faint hope clause.

"Heroic medicine" they call it.

But heroic or merely canny ?

Because while Duhig used techniques more primitive than those that Alexander Fleming had rejected 15 years earlier in 1928, he judged them safe enough to use to save the dying who had no other hope and he was proved right, over and over.

Like Martin Henry Dawson, Robert Pulvertaft and some pioneering Russian penicillin doctors, Duhig was near enough to the hospital ward floor and far enough away from the ivory towers of basic research labs to recognize some obvious medical facts of life.

He knew penicillin itself was the most non toxic lifesaver even seen (still true today) and that by great good luck, the impurities in crude natural penicillin juice (like the impurities in crude orange juice) were 'safe enough'.

By contrast, the conventional treatment for most deadly bacterial infections were the all new , all dancing , all synthetic sulfa drugs - the darlings of that era's chemistry-mad medical reformers.

They were cheap, plentiful and often worked without incident.

But for a growing percentage of patients - a figure that rose rapidly as bacterial resistance grew to the sulfas and doses had to get dangerously high to remain effective - sulfas could make the patient painfully sick or damage their kidneys permanently - sometimes even kill them.

Doctors used them because the alternative often was an equally painful death.

The crude compromises of the busy hospital ward

Life on the busy ward floor - unlike inside the lab's pristine porcelain white walls - is always full of tricky compromises.

After all , ultimately doctors gets paid the big bucks above all for their skill in juggling between a drug's dosage being too safe to be effective and a drug's dosage being so high as to kill patient as well as germ.

As it happened, the crude penicillin of Duhig - being totally untreated by any chemical solvents etc - was probably less toxic to patients than the so called purified penicillins were .

That is because all the chemicals used in the purification process often added new impurities in the mix !

Yes ,wartime indie PEN , like wartime breast milk, was crude and impure - but unlike most wartime medical researchers, it was never brain-dead stupid....

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wartime Penicillin, told as sharp clash of vivid personalities and philosophies -- not as a dry scientific treatise or as cheerleading fantasy of selfless wartime cooperation

If you have never read a book about the exciting saga of wartime penicillin that is hardly because of a lack of choice.

Dozens and dozens of authors have written well researched (and well regarded) renderings of the dramatic story, even if we discount the mass of uniformly dreadful books directed at children.

But despite a potential reading audience  that since 1944 that must number in the billions, none of these books can be said to be a national - let alone international - best seller.

Even more unexpectedly, there has never been any Hollywood movie about the wartime penicillin saga, let alone any successful one.

All these penicillin books to date suffer from one honest, sincere but erroneous assumption.

All their authors are united in seeing a single reason for the 15 years of delay between fleming's discovery of penicillin and when we in the rest of the world first heard about.

The same explanation is also used to account for the 25 year delay between the 1928 discovery and when it became readily available to almost all of the world's dying (regardless of income or location) during the 1950s.

Technical Flaws ?

They believe that all the delays in bringing penicillin to a world that badly needed it can  blamed on technical flaws in our sincere efforts to purify and preserve penicillin.

These steps were judged essential before it could be safely injected into the dying and cast as not really not surprising delays ---- once the reader is shown the complex nature of the penicillin molecule .

 These  authors consider briefly and then quickly dismiss the idea that the delays were really the result of character cum intellectual flaws ... in the complex natures of those we initially allowed to lead the penicillin effort.

These authors can hardly be accused of sugarcoating the personality clashes among the best known of the penicillin leaders or of denying differences between the various international organizations involved .

But neither do they portray these clashes as lying at the very heart of the causes for the years of delays.

Big Pharma - Big Science - Big Government vs Indie PEN

Powerful individuals and organizations holding widely popular views lay behind the delay to bring penicillin to the whole world.

In the beginning only a handful of individuals with few resources refused to accept the validity of these excuses for the delay in penicillin's mass introduction.

I call them , collectively, the Indie PEN movement.

Against overwhelming odds, this handful took on Big Pharma, Big Science , Big Government at the height of a Total War - and then, quite unexpectedly, totally triumphed at the very end.

A classic tortoise and hare story.

These personality (cum intellectual) flaws were not merely of a petty pattern or whimsically inconsistent .

Character/Intellectual Flaws ?

They are seriously held, consistently represented and strongly sustained .

The conflicting intellectual arguments and those who made them were internally consistent.

That is , the differing intellectual positions were held by individuals whose personalities were of those people who generally held those particular intellectual viewpoints.

This is why I say it is hard to separate out character flaws from intellectual flaws.

Those differences ran deep - deep as can be.

They reflected deeply held personal or institutional philosophies ("Weltanschauung") that differed in almost every way possible.

Some of those philosophies that lay behind the delays to bring penicillin to the masses would be regarded as deeply repugnant today.

 I certain think that way about them - I am not shy in saying that I see more than a whiff of the clash between absolute good and absolute evil buried deep inside the wartime penicillin saga.

 And I also see those ignoble philosophies as the main reason for all the delays.

 They lay behind the secret drive to weaponize penicillin and to deny it to most of the wartime world.

So we have before us a number of vivid , strongly etched characters (with strongly held and violently different worldviews ) clashing repeatedly .

I  don't think I am wrong in thinking that this will all make for a truly propulsive page turner --- one that also happens to better represent the reality of the war years.

Seventy five years on, its finally time that we dropped all remnants of the wartime Pollyanna rah rah cheerleading.

Let's let the story of wartime penicillin finally unfold as it truly happened , ignoble warts and selfless heroics and all ....

Penicillin for patients : stable ? pure ? or just 'safe enough' ? -- the essential disagreement between Fleming, Florey and Dawson

Alexander Fleming was famously known for his frugality : in speech, in the use of materials and in his physical exertions on his paid job.

Being too self confident in his own intellectual abilities (and perhaps also being too frugal cum lazy in the physical exertion department ?) fatally led him to avoid doing the needed series of experiments to prove up his claim that penicillin would never have time to do its work inside the body.

So he misled himself - and more importantly , the entire world,  for 14 years that penicillin would only work on the body,  never in the body - and tens of millions died premature deaths that could have/ should have been avoided.

Howard Florey's fatal flaw

However, because Fleming saw penicillin as only working outside the body he had no need for Howard Florey's delusions about penicillin having to be highly purified to work safely inside the body.

Fleming merely want the chemists to make penicillin as a stable powder in a bottle any doctor could readily buy from a near by druggist, store on an unrefrigerated shelf for years and still expect to work as an external antiseptic at 100% efficiency when needed.

Call this 'lazy man medicine'  or call it normalcy.

Because only one doctor in ten thousand world wide ever tried making homemade penicillin even after it was proclaimed a life-saving miracle.

They all preferred to simply patiently wait until this miracle came to them as a stable and certified safe powder in a bottle from Big Pharma.

(I am not sure all their dying patients were as patient.)

Florey's great insight

Howard Florey - to his credit - seemed to have never bought Fleming's tale that penicillin would never work inside the body - as had every other medical scientist in the world .

But because he thought it had to be purified first and that purification would be very difficult , if not impossible , he did nothing until he got a competent full time chemist on staff together with a large long term grant to sustain the effort.

Meanwhile ten wasted years (1929-1939) went by.

Clearly Florey was no medical crusader, burning to save lives NOW!

And he , too , had too much faith in his own intellectual powers.

In 1939 he requested grant money for his co-worker Ernst Chain's work on three bacteria-killing chemicals produced by living microbes against other living microbes (what scientists call antibiosis).

One was penicillin and one key phrase in the grant request reveals his thinking and his fatal flaw.

He believed that penicillin , if it can be purified, will prove safe and effective inside the body (eventually and hopeful inside the bodies of infected human patients).

But he just assumes this , again just like Fleming .

Without actually doing any of the needed experiments to prove his contention, one simply can not say that penicillin is non toxic inside the body and it is the impurities that will be unsafe inside the body.

Actually there are always - in advance of the actual experiments - a range of possibilities sliding between three poles (that represent absolutes rather than real world situations.)

The three poles are (a) only the main product is toxic (b) only the impurities are toxic (c) both are equally toxic or equally non toxic.

Let us get concrete with a few examples.

You are a chemical firm making the poison prussic acid. You discover impurities in the resulting mix (impurities being anything that isn't prussic acid).

Prussic acid is almost uniquely toxic and it is the main product - any impurities thrown up may or maybe not toxic but are unlikely to be anywhere as toxic as prussic acid.

But in this case, you are seeking pure toxicity - impure non-toxicity is the problem , not the solution.

Grapefruit are 99.99% impure of vitamin C - thanks be to God

Grapefruit are a so so source of pure vitamin C . A 500 gram fruit might hold only 50 mg of vitamin C - one bit in 10,000 is pure vitamin C and the rest is - technically - impurities.

So why do we bother ?

Well they are very tasty , providing lots of water, fibre, sugar and various other minerals and vitamins - as well as some of the tasteless vitamin C we could get from a pill.

(And surprise surprise, that pill , when taken with the needed glass of water, is also mostly dross and a tiny amount, often only 100 mg, of vitamin C !)

And all those grapefruit 'impurities 'are safe - we eat them without any danger and in fact with a great deal of enjoyment.

All our food mostly consists of a vast bulk of relatively safe impurities and tiny amounts of pure vitamins and minerals.

But some foods - some very tasty mushrooms - consist of mostly nice food and tiny amounts of impurities called toxins that kill us.

So it all depends.

First we must define what is the main product we want from a mixture before we can define its 'impurities'.

Do grapefruits consist of 90% food (discarding only the skin and seeds) or do they consist of .001 % vitamin C and 99.99% dross ?

Then we need to do the experiments before drawing any conclusions.

Because sometimes , as with weak impure penicillin juice versus pure strong penicillin powder , it turns out that penicillin allergy deaths only began with massive amounts of the 100% pure stuff !

By sheer good luck, in this particular mushroom (this strain of the sometimes dangerous penicillium mold), the impurities were non-toxic as was the penicillin .

But for a relatively large percent of people, if given large amounts of pure penicillin direct into a vein by careless doctors, it can kill on the spot in a severe allergy reaction.

The safe solution is to go on using pure penicillin but to test new patients with tiny amounts - just beneath the skin - first.

Florey spent more than ten years - from the late 1930s to the late 1940s seeking ever purer penicillin to increase the safety of this injectable drug.

His obsession was scientifically wrong, logically deluded and it delayed the wartime introduction of mass produced penicillin for years.

Florey was a racist

Florey was an eugenicist and a racist from his youth and I believe this sort of racial purity thinking leaked over into the science side of his brain - he saw penicillin as the Anglo Saxons and the impurities as the Blacks.

Blood that was 99% Anglo Saxon and 1% Black was impure and defiled - and much the same applied to pure versus impure penicillin.

In Florey's twisted mind.

Ward doctors are like shop floor chemists - they hold few illusions 

Another problem was that both Fleming and Florey were far more lab doctors than ward doctors - while Martin Henry Dawson divided his time equally between both.

Sheltered university chemists quickly lose their delusions about the academic awards for obtaining 100% total synthesis ,regardless of expense or yield, once on the factory floor of a profit-seeking chemical firm.

So too with busy ward doctors balancing a dying patient versus a very dangerous drug that might injure them as well as save their life.

My mother would have backed Martin Henry Dawson 110%

My mother , in her early thirties, was saved from certain infectious death by a single course of streptomycin .

It left her deaf in one ear - by that time, in 1962 , this was a well known risk of high doses of that drug.

She didn't complain then and she never ever did .

She told how grateful she was to lose her hearing to gain her life just three days before she suffered her fatal stroke - when she was in her eighties, a half century later.

So call me prejudiced - I like doctors who take chances to save patients' lives.

I like Martin Henry Dawson.

He saw two patients about to die from invariably fatal endocarditis.

All other known medical solutions had failed.

He knew penicillin seemed non toxic in various animals and in human blood - from his own research and that of Fleming and Florey.

He tested a small amount of penicillin  that he suspected to be probably very weak , on himself, injected just under his skin.

No toxic results.

He did the same on the two patients - not toxic.

He gradually and slowly upped the amounts and also moving gradually to injection methods that introduced the penicillin far quicker into the blood and hence was far more potentially dangerous.

Only local pain at the injection site and a temporary fever and shakes was noted - routine for most injected drugs then.

All Dawson sought from penicillin was that it was relatively safe - and effective.

He used the penicillin he made himself with hours or days - he wasn't afraid of hard work, unlike Fleming - so stability was an non-issue to him.

Like the food that Dawson ate and enjoyed, his crude penicillin was hardly pure - but so what - it was basically safe.

Safer in fact - even in crude form - than the 100% pure sulfa drugs that were then routinely saving many lives while also making many people very very sick in the process.

Like a chemist on the shop floor ( think Smith, Elder and Jephcott ) Dawson saw life as full of compromises and the job was determining what was really Job One.

For all of them , it was saving as many patients as they could - NOW !

And God Bless 'Em for that...

Wartime Penicillin Drama : 3 non-chemists promote chemical penicillin while 3 working chemists promote natural penicillin ...

Three middle-aged chemist manques who disgracefully put youthful dreams before the public good - at the height of a total war

Three of wartime penicillin's chief protagonists were men who, as youths, had hoped to become hands-on lab research chemists but whom necessity had pushed them instead into becoming medical science desk administrators.

Their names ?

 Howard Florey, director of Oxford University's Dunn Path Institute , A. Newton Richards, head of the Medical Division of Vannevar Bush's famous OSRD war-science agency and George W. Merck , head of Merck.

All three greatly respected each other and worked as closely together as the American and British governments (nominally allies) allowed.

Wartime penicillin gave all three a second childhood as chemist manques and disgracefully, they ran with it* .

Even as a world at war panted instead for lots of disease-fighting drugs in any form , as long as they worked , were safe and were available NOW .

"Middle Aged Crazy"

For ten useless years (before , during and after WWII) they placed their highest priority on producing totally synthesized artificial (patentable) commercially viable penicillin.

They didn't get it and we still haven't.

If we had left penicillin just to them - as most at the top of the American and British governments had wanted  - we'd never seen any amount of penicillin . Not during the war and not for long after, until newly elected governments came to their senses , cut their losses and moved on.

Let us now honour the three chemists who put public good before their chosen profession

By pointed contrast , three working industrial chemists - men who had long struggled on the factory floor coming up with chemical solutions that reliably delivered safe, profitable, productive chemicals on time and on budget - saw naturally produced penicillin as the best solution.

The best solution perhaps for all time but certainly during a war emergency with its shortages of time and resources.

Let us now honour their names - as true patriots , as people who put the good of humanity before gaining more fame for their chosen profession.

These largely unknown and unhonoured heroes of the wartime penicillin saga made sure we had penicillin when it was most needed - D-Day and after.

And these three laid the groundwork for the kind of micro-biology technology that still produces all our antibiotics and many other medicines as well.

They are the American WPB's (War Production Board) Larry Elder ,  Glaxo chief Harry Jephcott and Pfizer chief John L Smith.

While we can show our disappointment for what Alexander Fleming, Florey , Martin Henry Dawson and all their co-workers did or didn't do with penicillin , it is my contention that all their actions were predictable , based on my through study of their personalities as displayed from youth on into middle age.

But I can't honestly say the same about Elder, Jephcott and Smith : they were the true wildcards of the whole wartime penicillin drama....

* I am mindful of former Nova Scotia premier John Buchanan who became a lawyer and a very very successful politician but who had really wanted to be a civil engineer.

Once in power, he drove the province into tremendous debt building anything and everything in sight : the once young engineer manque who finally got to 'drive the excavator'.

Most middle aged men - once they get money, a pot belly and grey hair - content themselves with finally buying the Corvette or Harley Davidson that Dad would never let them buy - but some (like Florey , Richards and Merck) do far more harm than that when they get a chance to go "middle aged crazy" .

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wartime penicillin only cures one NEW disease , until the Allied medical elite put a stop to its efforts...

Allied doctors "Code Slow" minorities, immigrants and poor to certain death 

Sometimes true facts are far stranger than anything that bad acid and bad Hollywood writing could dream up.

Fact is, wartime penicillin's so called 'miracles' usually consisted in curing many diseases than earlier medicines also cured --- albeit very fitfully.

This earlier medications - basically the various biological serums , heavy metal based drugs and the sulfa pills - had dangerous side effects, took a lot longer, were more painful , cost more , required more skill.

Above all, their cure rates were much lower than early penicillin - of the total number of patients both type of medicines treated, penicillin saw far more lives saved.

Only one new disease - SBE - subacute bacterial endocarditis ( the disease that made Rheumatic Fever (RF) so terrifying) was converted from nearly 100% fatal to nearly 100% curable , by penicillin and penicillin alone.

(Thank you Dr Dawson on behalf of my brother Bruce, who got heart valve damage from RF but never got SBE.)

Unbelievably , the Anglo-American medical establishment, taking a page from Hitler's eugenic playbook , used 'military necessity' as an excuse not to give life-saving penicillin to militarily-useless SBE patients.

Unlike Polio research - which was never curtailed during the war and mostly afflicted the middle class (can you say 'doctors', boy and girls ?) , SBE mostly afflicted the minorities, immigrants and the poor.

But perhaps I am telling you something you may have already suspected, bless your cynical little souls ...

Holocaust Studies (and Jewish genealogy) ignoring the Jews saved from 'death by deliberate neglect' planned for them by hostile ALLIED medical establishments ?

"Code Slowing" New York Jews to a certain death during height of Holocaust - and the dying Gentile who saved them

During the darkest days of WWII - at the height of the Holocaust - Charles Aronson , Miriam Laskowitz, Penny Mehler and Otto Morowitz all faced a death sentence as sure as any issued by the Nazis.

They were children of immigrants growing up in crowded homes in the NYC area during the late 1910s and 1920s , at the height of the deadliest phase of acute Rheumatic Fever.

As a result all had badly damaged heart valves and now as young adults during the war years, faced certain death from the uniformly fatal SBE (subacute bacterial endocarditis).

Taking a page out of the Nazi handbook , Anglo-American medical elites were using the excuse of 'war necessity' to deny them the medicine that could save these Jewish lives.

Yet as other Jews around the the world were dying from battlefield bullets or in secret gas chambers , these New York City Jews (and ultimately tens of thousands of other Jews worldwide very like them) , were plucked from death and given a new life.

As the result of a selfless act of agape from a dying Gentile doctor.

This Canadian-born doctor gave up his own life to save the lives of strangers - and changed our whole world for the better - forever.

I mention these patients' names only because they have already been already made public long ago , by Gladys Hobby in her seminal account of the exciting saga of wartime penicillin (PENICILLIN : MEETING THE CHALLENGE).

Hobby was one member of Dr Martin Henry Dawson's tiny medical team at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital (today's CUMC) who had laboured for five years to save these four and dozens of others.

These four can not be all the wartime Jews plucked from death by the direct and indirect efforts of Dr Dawson's tiny team - it is just that they are the only names I currently know.

And that is almost all I know about them - they have vanished from history.

Next year - October 16th 2015 - will mark the 75th anniversary that the first of these Jews (Charles Aronson) was saved from death by Dr Dawson's hospital-brewed natural penicillin - an event that also ushered in our era of life-saving antibiotics.

Jewish Genealogy in the New York City area

I appeal to those involved in New York City area Jewish genealogy , to New York City medical personnel with an interest in medical history and to all those scholars researching Jewish death and survival during WWII .

Please consider helping to mark the 75th anniversary of the world's first ever penicillin shot (Manhattan Oct 16th 1940) by turning your eyes and skills towards recovering some of this lost story of Jews saved from certain death.

Beginning with recovering the stories of Charles, Miriam, Penny and Otto and their families ...

Charles born about 1913
Miriam born about 1920
Otto born about 1914
Penny born about 1932

Based on my assessment of their penicillin treatment patterns and Gladys Hobby's whereabouts upon retirement , I believe all four were living in the greater NYC area in the mid 1940s (ie including the near-by parts of New Jersey) and the last three were still living there circa 1980 as she prepared her book.

Penny's last name might be Mahler. There is always a distinct possibility that all these names are actually their middle names (or that they are their first names but their families knew them by other names.)

After all , the Dawson patient who was received the world's first penicillin shot was recorded as Aaron Alston , but was known as Leroy to family and friends and he always wrote his name as A. Leroy Alston !

I think that Charles might well have died in the 1950s - for a child and man who cheated death at least six or more times, a by no means bad fate ....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Synthetic Howard Florey vs Natural Martin Henry Dawson

The untold scandal of the Anglo-American pharmaceuticals "CODE SLOWING" natural penicillin production in the crucial months before D-Day

Howard Florey seems to have contacted every major pharmaceutical firm and governmental scientific organization in the UK , Canada and America but clicked with only a very few.

Martin Henry Dawson's project was known by most of the same organizations - but he clicked with even fewer.

But both men eventually found institutional supporters of the same like mind as themselves - so it probably didn't matter how many rejected them.

Both men were relatively inflexible as to their ultimate objectives.

 Florey sought a perfect chemical synthetic solution, no matter how long it took and was unwilling to settle for anything less .

By contrast, Dawson wanted any sort of solution to the penicillin supply issue - as long as it happened now ! - and that it provided an abundance of inexpensive wartime penicillin.

Florey found similarly chemically minded executives at Merck, ICI and in A. N. Richards the head of the medical division of the American OSRD (where the ultimate boss, Vannevar Bush was notorious for never ever hiring biologists.)

Dawson found a kindred soul in John L Smith of Pfizer (albeit prodded by his wife Mae) who decided to risk all by going the all-natural route when the industry consensus was to "Code Slow" natural penicillin production until perfect synthetic penicillin was invented.

And like Dawson, Smith's vision was for lots and lots and lots of penicillin - now !

Suddenly - a crucial month before D-Day - the race between the two competing visions was all over.

Not a drop of synth pen in the pipeline to Kansas City Kansas and then onto the waiting military hospital units in the south of England - instead tens of billions of units of natural penicillin were in that pipeline , almost all from Pfizer.

Florey stormed and the dying Dawson permitted himself a rare - wall-to-wall - grin .....

Indie Pen versus Trolling for Grants

Trolling for Grants

Would Nobel Prize winner Sir Howard Florey have ever even gotten involved with penicillin if he hadn't first won grants to do so from the UK's  MRC and America's Rockefeller Foundation along with a book contract on the subject from Oxford University Press ?

It wasn't just their promise of money either - Florey was the type that never ventured forth unless he was assured of the stamp of approval from the powerful - and grants and book contracts from such as these were definitely that.

He was made the chaired professor (director) of a large institution within Oxford University (with a main building about the size of his rival Martin Henry Dawson 's entire alma mater -Dalhousie University - circa 1914).

But no operating budget to speak of to run it.

To keep the lights on , he needed many make work projects to operate within it - what subject areas they covered it didn't really matter to Florey- just as long as they brought in many grants for many years to many busy researchers.

Not too small a project - that gave no certainty that any grant agency would be interested. Too big and too popular  meant too many potential rivals worldwide.

He sought a medium sized but worthy project that someone should really have looked into years before - but no one had.

If he got in early enough and got in big enough, he'd have a head start in so many aspects of the subject that no serious rival would find enough virgin territory to want to stake a rival claim  --- he'd rule that entire important albeit medium sized research area forever.

The study of microbe to microbe offensive and defensive tactics (antibiosis) seemed just such an untapped area - and Florey had indeed guessed right and he was given grants to secure his institution for years to come.

But he himself had no real interest in that area - he was a Sherrington styled old fashioned physiologist , one who experimented on healthy animals to learn about the normal functions of healthy human beings.

He was in no way a microbiologist , clinician or pathologist - he had no interest in curing human disease caused by external microbes.

Only upon the Fall of France did Florey realize that Ernst Chain's project - penicillin - might yield useful materials to heal war wound infection caused by the one big family of bacteria the existing sulfas could not attack - the staph bacteria.

This basic science project of Chain's might yet make Florey a wartime medical hero - and win him anything and everything - even a much desired baronetcy .

His main rival (at least as Florey saw it) was in fact content with his lot in life but burned with the ardour of a medical crusader - he sought to make life better for the weak and the small.

Indie Pen

Dawson sought no grants , sought no prior approval from the powerful.

He was quiet, modest , diffident.

And in his quiet way, also extremely stubborn and brave.

Throughout the race, Dawson was always so far behind as to be almost out of the race.

He was also dying.

It therefore becomes a very exciting story then for me to unfold.

How on earth did this (dying) tortoise managed in the last minutes before D-Day  to suddenly pulled far ahead of his British hare rival  ?

Tortoise and Hare : the race between indies and suits for wartime penicillin

Indie Pen

The Tortoise was 'indie' penicillin , New York City penicillin , Emma Lazarus penicillin - humanized and naturalized. It had none of the innings for nine tenths of the game but pulled way ahead at the end.

The Hare was 'suits' penicillin : weaponized , synthesized , eugenicized , profitably-patentable, 'I am a Republican in a Democratic administration and I am here to help you 'penicillin.

It was supported by  the Anglo-American scientific-medical establishment ,  by Big Pharma and by the British Conservative-dominated government and some all-powerful agencies of the wartime American government.

Monday, August 11, 2014

First penicillin shot : October 16 1940 , DAILY DOSE to the contrary

Amazing what BS you can pick up on websites - they can't even get the facts on the very first penicillin shots right - I'd hate to accept their advice on something serious !

First patient to get a penicillin shot , Harlem's Aaron Leroy Alston , possibly not a widower.

Census information on individuals is always useful but bring along a couple grains of salt.

 A possible case in point is whether or not history's first antibiotics patient, Harlem's Aaron Leroy Alston, was or was not a widower - as reported by his mother on his January 1941 death certificate.

 After all there was no indication he had ever been married let alone widowed on the April 1940 census - where he was simply known as Leroy Alston - the name family and friends called him.

His nephew Claude Jay told me he does not recall any in the extended Glaze family mentioning that Leroy was ever married widowed or separated.

 But the 1930 census tells a different story.

 Born in Rockhill South Carolina in 1910 , Leroy had arrived in Harlem in 1923, an only child, with his mother mother Louise (Glaze) Alston and his father William "Stock" Alston and his cousin Reginald Daniels, about his same age.

They then opened a restaurant at the corner of 8th Avenue and 148th Street.

 By 1930, Aaron and his mother are living in different apartments in Harlem.

 Louise is reported as a widow - and a check of the indexed NYC death certificates does show a death of a William Alston on March 12 1924 , at the very young age of age 36.

 She is described as a waitress working in a tea shop and earning an appallingly low annual income.

 A. Leroy Alston, which was the preferred way that Leroy liked to call himself in print, in 1930 is shown as married to a Charlotte L Alston.

 It indicated both married two years earlier at 18 , on completing High School.

 She is a homemaker and Leroy has a good job - a clerk in a NY Underwriters office ( fire insurance) .

 A check of the indexed death certificates finds no dead Charlotte Alston in all NYC up to the end of 1948 - period.

 Instead in 1940 , the census shows a Charlotte L (L for maiden name Lee ?) Alston, living in Harlem as a daughter to Julia Lee and her age and birth state is the same as indicated in 1930.

 Now it is true that census returns , until recently, almost never used the words separated, deserted , divorced or common law.

 My partner's own father's parents both remarried without getting an (expensive / public) divorce first and continued to live very close to each other in rural Nova Scotia!

 Older family adults probably knew and small children - and the authorites - were never set wise.

 If the couple separated and both returned home to live with mother , it wasn't for lack of jobs during the terrible Great Depression which destroyed so many families in Harlem.

 Leroy kept his good job and worked it a full 52 weeks in 1939.

Many breadwinners then , white and black , had only intermittent work even when employed.

 It is mystery , either way this widowed/married or not issue is finally resolved ....

New York Times - succinct for once - on Fleming's penicillin vs Dawson's penicillin

On Feb 23rd 2009 , the New York Times did a story about the first times it ever mentioned penicillin on its pages.

In that article the Times reporter , Nicholas Bakalar , correctly (and yet so succinctly) said that in a major story on May 6th 1941 , the Times described the first ever use of penicillin IN a patient (Aaron Leroy Alston and Charles Aronson , October 16th 1940 at Manhattan's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital).

Completely true , because all previous clinical use of penicillin - stretching back 12 years and all in the UK - had involved the use of penicillin ON a patient.

The breakthrough from harmless to lifesaving happened in North America - in NYC - first.

It was left to Dr Martin Henry Dawson from new Scotland - not Dr Alexander Fleming from old Scotland -to elevate penicillin from a harmless enough antiseptic (ON) to the potent lifesaver it became (IN) - thus ushering in the Age of Lifesaving Antibiotics.

Overwhelming , external antiseptic medications* by themselves do not save patients from acute life-threatening infections - but internal antibiotic medications do .

(*Surgical and nursing procedures that follow strict disinfectant and antiseptic protocols of course do save hundreds of millions of lives worldwide each year , but indirectly,  by avoiding future potential infections.)

Antibiotics can only save patients from imminent death if used IN the body - never ON the body

It was Dr Dawson who lifted penicillin out of a dusty museum of medical curios and stuck it into a dying man's arm and saved his life - not Fleming.

Fleming thought penicillin was only useful as an antiseptic and only if it was first made artificially synthetic - neither which proved in any way accurate.

Bravo Nicolas ------ Fleming : first to put penicillin ON a patient , Dawson : first to put penicillin IN a patient ...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why "Life-Saving Antiseptic" is an oxymoron

I just searched Google Scholar for any scientific articles using the term "lifesaving antiseptic" and it came back : zero.

But when it searched for scientific articles using the term "lifesaving antibiotics", we got 373 articles.

So Martin Henry Dawson and his tiny pioneering penicillin team always sold themselves terribly short.

Yes, a thousand times yes, they were the very first outside the UK to use penicillin clinically , as they claimed.

But that was only after it had been used many times clinically in the UK - as penicillin-the-antiseptic - in the dozen years since its discovery. So ho hum.

(Those cures included some simply amazing (but not life-saving) cases - that were never ever published and publicized.)

But what no one in the Uk, no one on earth , no one in history in fact had ever done, was use it as penicillin-the-antibiotic.

That is, use penicillin as a life-saving systemic medicine, one that is applied internally by pill or needle, to flow throughout the entire body to fight microbe diseases that were active throughout the body and hence were capable of threatening the patient's life.

75 years of Lifesaving : world's first penicillin shots , Manhattan Oct 16 1940

That is what Dawson did that is so historically unique - to dare to give the first penicillin shots --- 12  wasted years after it was first discovered.

He largely failed to have any medical affect with systemic penicillin on his first go at it (because he took on the very gold standard of incurable infections, SBE) but he was still eager to talk about those failures publicly.

Pfizer and the world only heard about penicillin because Dawson was more willing to talk about his failures than all the Limeys were willing to talk about their successes.

If only the Brits had done their jobs as doctors properly , Dawson won't have needed to step in the breech - when he was needed ...