24 August, 2008

British media and Dr.Fleming(1)

It is interesting to trace back its consequences, after Dr.
Florey and his Oxford team proved the penicillin efficiency
for bacterial infections in human.

British newspapers correctly reported the penicillin therapy?
or, what reported or said the British newspapers, magazines
about penicillin therapy to the peoples ?

British media picked up one Doctor, and made up a success
story of Dr.Alexander Fleming. But, Dr.Fleming had no
contribution for the first clinical trail of penicillin for bacterial
infections in mouse and human. Instead, he was jealous of
Dr.Florey's success.

Also, Dr Fleming broken the ethical rule of Doctors in 1940's
England, that Doctors did not advertised themselves or their
work by giving personal interviews to the press.

Dr. R.G. Macfarlane of Oxford University described -----------
On 30 August 1941, the British Medical Journal published an annotation
on the Lancet paper describing the clinical use of penicillin in Oxford.
The annotation referred to Fleming's discovery in 1929, and suggested that
its therapeutic possibilities had not , at that time, been realized.

Fleming immediately took exception to this, writing a letter to the Editor
of British Medical Journal on 1 September, in which he complained that
insufficient recognition had been given in the annotation to his work.

To the impartial observer, it might seem that he had little to complain about.
His discovery had been duly acknowledged, and he could hardly expect
much more than that, because he really had done almost nothing to promote
the therapeutic use of penicillin.

His first(1929) paper on penicillin (which had mainly stressed its use in
bacteriology) contained the words, " it may be an efficient antiseptic for
application to, or injection into area infected with penicillin-sensitive

On 5 August 1942, Fleming telephoned to Florey asking for a supply
of penicillin to treat a personal friend who had been ill for the past seven
weeks at St.Mary's Hospital. The patient had then developed signs of
streptococcal meningitis and seemed to be dying. He himself took the
penicillin by the next train to London, and told Fleming exactly how to
use it.

For six days Fleming gave the recommended doses, but it was clear
that the penicillin was not reaching the infection in the brain.
So. after consultation wit Florey, Fleming injected the penicillin into
the spinal fluid, and the streptococcal infection was overcome.

Within a few days the patient had completely recovered, and it was agreed
between Fleming and Florey that this dramatic result should be included in
the current Oxford clinical trial. Penicillin had not before been given by
intarspinal injection( except in Florey's animal experiments).

It was also an episode of considerable interest and excitement at St. Mary's
Hospital. News of this miracle cure at St. Mary's Hospital was undoubtedly
in the air when The Times published a leading article headed 'Penicillium"
on 30 August. It drew attention to a remarkable new therapeutic substance
and, without mentioning names, referred to work in Oxford.

Sir Almroth Wright at once dispelled this anonymity with a letter to the
Editor on 31 August :
In the leading article on penicillin in your issue yesterday you
refrained from putting the laurel wreath for this discovery round
anyone's brow. I would, with your permission, supplement your
article by pointing out that, on the principle palmam qui meruit ferat
it should be decreed to Professor Alexander Fleming of this Laboratory
For he is the discoverer of penicillin and was the author also of the
original suggestion that this substance might prove to have important
application in medicine.

On the day of the appearance of Wright's letter, reporters besieged St. Mary
Hospital and evidently met with little resistance. That night an interview with
Fleming appeared in the Evening Standard, and on the following morning the
daily papers published varying accounts of his discovery of penicillin and its
astonishing effects. The Morning Chronicle selected him as ' The Man of the
Week' with a four-column article and his photograph.

Sir Robert Robinson had replied to Sir Almroth Wright with the letter to
The Times on 1 September;

If Fleming deserved the laurel wreath, ' a bouquet at last, and
a handsome one, should be presented to Professor H.W.Florey.

Ref: Howard Florey; the making of a great scientist. Oxford University Press.1980

Any questions: write to Keiji Hagiwara, MD,