noviembre 24, 2012

The Fleming Myth

Alexander Fleming realized the incredible medical of potential of penicillin when a stray mold spore landed on an exposed bacterial culture. Like so many great myths, this one has more than a grain (or mold spore) or truth to it. Scottish pharmacologist Sir Alexander Fleming did keep a notoriously messy lab, leaving bacterial cultures to pile up in a basin when he was finished with them. Mold could and did find its way into these abandoned cultures, including those of the Penicillium genus, which was being grown for other research purposes in another part of the building. Fleming did notice and identify the bacteria killing mold naming the substance it released "penicillin," which would go on to become one of medical science's great weapons. He was hardly the first to recognize its antibiotic properties, however.Penicillium was a known quantity, and many other researchers, including folks like Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur, had noted its ability to kill bacteria. In 1929, though, Fleming published a paper in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology on the effects of penicillin on various bacteriological agents, noting that it could kill the bacteria without destroying living human tissue.
However, your grade school biology class might have treated this as a lightbulb moment, with Fleming immediately recognizing the potential of penicillin and whipping it into medical-grade shape. The truth was that Fleming didn't see penicillin as a particularly viable medicine. Douglas Allchin notes in his article "Scientific Myth-Conceptions," which appeared in the May 2003 issue of Science Education that Fleming was frustrated by penicillin's limitations. When taken orally, penicillin wasn't absorbed by the human body, and it was excreted quickly after being injected. Rather than investigate the therapeutic potential of penicillin, Fleming tended to goof around with penicillin, drawing pictures on culture plates using penicillin and bacteria, and eventually he abandoned his work on the mold. It was a different researcher, Oxford's Howard Florey, who would lead the charge to make penicillin into a viable method of treating human infection. Even as Florey and his associate, Sir Ernst Boris Chain, began reporting great results with penicillin as a potential therapeutic agent, Fleming did not turn his attention toward similar research. (In fact, when Fleming telephoned Florey to arrange a visit to their lab, Chain responded that he'd thought Fleming was dead.) Florey and Chain did share the 1945 Nobel Prize in medicine with Fleming, but it was Fleming who was named one of Time's 100 Persons of the Century. Florey and Chain have certainly been recognized as two of the great heroes of medical science, but they may never achieve the global fame Fleming earned for stumbling across penicillin in a dirty sink.
How did the story come about? Well, the half of this story that interests people most—that penicillin simply appeared one day on a bacterial culture—is true. But even Fleming himself termed his importance in the development of therapeutic penicillin the "Fleming Myth," and preferred to stress the importance of Florey and Chain's research. That myth, unsurprisingly, was started by the press. When Florey and Chain published their findings on the therapeutic uses of penicillin, they credited Fleming's article as their inspiration. Reporters loved the idea of this unknown, unsung Scottish researcher "discovering" penicillin by accident, and soon Fleming's name became synonymous with the life-saving drug.
Tomado de io9

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