After 1929, Fleming tried to purify penicillin without much success, he was over his head. Yet he was amazed at the powerful strength of his penicillin extract, which if diluted 1000 times was still effective in destroying bacteria. Fleming’s other flawed character trait was his lecture style of delivery, somehow giving the impression he was not enthusiastic about his subject. One doctor however became inspired with the science of penicillin as a result of Fleming’s paper, his name was Cecil Paine.
Paine was the first to demonstrate the use of penicillin with the lacerated eye of a local miner who when seen by dr Paine still had the stone embedded in the eye and a infection had started. The bacteria was Pneumococcus which at the time would require the eye to be removed surgically. Paine irrigated the eye with a crude penicillin extract to save the eye including the minor’s vision too. Yet Paine never wrote this case nor a few other successful uses of crude penicillin believing hat his testing with a crude extract was not rigorous enough for satisfying publication guidelines. Paine also dropped work on penicillin. Yet after moving to new job post, he broached his penicillin work to a new professor of pathology, Dr Howard Florey. Florey had been on the editorial board from the journal that first published Fleming’s work, so he was certainly familiar with penicillin. Florey had a big lab with lots of staff particularly Dr Ernest Chain, who had brought into Florey’s lab a subculture of Fleming’s original extract of Penicillium notatum. Yet Paine appears to have also spurred Florey with his first successes with penicillin which for whatever motivation made Florey choose to work on penicillin at that time.
After a successful series of mice experiments using two groups infected with Streptococcus germs, one half injected with penicillin all survived and all died in the group not receiving any penicillin. Between Florey and Chain both now thought they were ready for human testing. After a couple unofficial tests they finally began to rescue infected people back to health. The next hurdle was ramping up the production of penicillin.
With the start of World War Two all industrial efforts in England were now directed at the war effort. Florey decided to approach the Rockefeller Foundation and began work in the United States after 1941. The penicillin project took flight as a top priority war project. Despite working with Flemings original culture Florey’s group found in a concerted nationwide search Penicillium from a moldy cantaloupe from Peoria, Illinois, which was 200 times more productive, identified as Penicillium chrysogeum. The same species of penicillin that is used today. Next, this species was irradiated with X-rays and Ultra Violet rays to induce mutations of the antibiotic. Eventually the penicillin research group produced a mutant capable of 1000 times the production of Fleming’s original culture. They also tried aeration of the vats containing the penicillin mold , converting the surface growth of the nutrient bath in a 25,000 gallon bath, now stimulating the mold to grow throughout the entire tank. This industrial production could now be considered ramped up toward treating millions of patients per year.
Fleming was not part of any of the United States project, yet was Knighted in 1943, rescuing him from obscurity. Fleming with Florey and Chain were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945 for Physiology/Medicine after saving literally millions of lives from bacterial infections resulting from war wounds Also including me after my massive flesh eating infection twenty years ago.