Monday, September 8, 2014

Twelve year resistance against injecting crude natural penicillin was

Doctors Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey did nothing at all about injecting crude natural penicillin into patients to try and save lives during the 12 long years between the Fall of 1928 and and the Fall of 1940.

But they did nothing more (less ?) than did all the other doctors in the world.

Their (lack of) response to the great potential in a crude penicillium liquid that was very non-toxic to primates and very toxic to death-dealing bacteria was perfectly

Because doctors - just like the rest of us - also have unconscious Ids and also have unconscious fears about monsters.

Back in that era - pace H P Lovecraft and innumerable horror movies - the unconscious monster feared the most were the slime beings lying an uneasy halfway between stable solids and mobile liquids.

The scientific reluctance to inject the poop and pee of slime molds into the temple of the human body might have had a multiple of scientific excuses to support it but let's be frank - it was really was just an Id thing .

After all , doctors had no such reluctance to inject all sorts of man-made chemicals into the body - very dangerous chemicals like Salvarsan and Sulfa drugs.

They also had no reluctance to inject dangerous horse serum into humans.

These too were biological products like the much avoided penicillin juice.

 But in the case of serums and vaccines the paradigm shift over using deadly bacteria and foreign serum as internal medicines had been heavily fought over (and settled) centuries earlier with Jenner's first successful smallpox treatment.

Today, of course, doctors (often indeed the children  and grandchildren of the earlier generation of reluctant doctors) routinely inject medications taken from various slimy members of the fungal family without ever blinking an eye.

It's all perfectly

But let us recall the doctor who first flaunted his willingness to break this taboo.

Henry Dawson breaks the slime taboo

After a five month effort, Fleming and his two young assistants had concentrated and semi-purified penicillium juice to a point similar to that reached by Florey 12 years later.

Despite this great advance, Fleming would still only use it cautiously , on external infections, and he also cautiously declined to give many details of this clinical work in his initial paper.

By contrast, after just five weeks of work, a much less refined penicillium juice concentrate was available to Dr (Martin) Henry Dawson.

The word he used publicly to describe it was "crude" - the first time this normally pejorative term was ever used to describe penicillin , albeit by a firm proponent of penicillin !

Nevertheless , he eagerly injected it into some patients on October 16th 1940.

While one survived his invariably fatal disease, Dawson frankly indicated in the resulting published paper (May 5 1941) that there had been no reduction in the number of bacteria colonies in the man's blood after the treatments.

Dawson did not decline to discuss his dismal clinical results nor did he choose to bury them in a relatively obscure journal.

Instead he released his results before eight hundred research doctors at one of North American medicine's most important traditional big international conferences held every Spring in  Atlantic City*.

(*Largely held there each year because Prohibition (along with laws against gambling and prostitution) was never enforced in Atlantic City - research doctors drink just as much as the rest of us - as well as having Ids and fearing monsters.)

There it proved a surprise hit with various science reporters, was given a big headline in the New York Times and Newsweek, was picked up by the wire services , and reported upon in a medical journal in faraway South Africa.

Most importantly, this sort of important international conference attracted ambitious drug companies eager to get a jump on their competition by learning early about drug breakthroughs.

In Dawson's case, the firm he impressed the most was Pfizer - then tiny , today huge thanks largely to this early teaming up with Dawson which led Pfizer to be WWII's by far biggest producer of penicillin .

Natural penicillin...naturally.

Because Fleming backed three wrong horses with regards to penicillin - the most important one perhaps being that he insisted it would only work (and even then only as a minor antiseptic) if it was a patentable chemical synthetic : no slime juice in the human temple for him.

But with Pfizer's unexpected success - thanks mostly to a big big assist from Miloslav Demerec - the paradigm shifted and natural was , if not totally rad cool, at least passably coolish...

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