Alexander Fleming Biography

Alexander Fleming (East Ayrshire, Scotland, 6 August 1881 – London, England, 11 March 1955). Scientist, Physician, Biologist, Microbiologist and Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945, recognized for having discovered Penicillin, the first antibiotic discovered, which marked a real revolution in the medical sciences, translating into millions of lives saved in Everybody.

Early years

Fleming was born on 6 August 1881 to a farming family, based in the rural village of Lochfield in East Aryshire, Scotland.  He was the seventh of Hugh Fleming’s eight children, the third of four he had on his second weddings with Grace Fleming.

At the age of seven, his father died, being left under the care of his mother and older brother. He completed his early years of study, at Moor Lauden and Darvel schools, as well as at Kilmarnock Academy.

University Studies

At the age of thirteen, in 1895, he moved to London, where he finished his education at Regent Street Polytechnic Institute, while living under the care of his older brother, Thomas Fleming, who was an eye doctor. In 1900 he enlisted in the Territorial Army, serving in the London Sottish Regiment for four years.

In 1901, thanks to the inheritance of one of his uncles and a scholarship he began his medical studies at St. Mary’s School Hospital. In 1906, he began to join part of the team of the bacteriologist Sir Almroth Wright. Finally, in 1908, he graduated, earning him a gold medal as the best medical student at the University of London.

Work as a doctor

Between 1904 and 1914 he devoted himself to the treatment of venereal diseases, becoming one of the first doctors in Britain to administer “arsphenamine” (a component discovered in 1910 by Paul Ehrlich) in syphilis patients.

In 1915, he married an Irish nurse named Sarah Marion McElroy, with whom in 1924 he had a son, who was baptized with the name Robert, who later also became a doctor.

During World War I, he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in a makeshift laboratory in Boulogne, France, to study the infections caused by the wounds of soldiers.

Fleming discovered that the antiseptic employees were extremely strong, causing the destruction of the body’s immune substances, eventually resulting in the deaths of the wounded.

At the time, Fleming recommended suspending their use, and treating the lesions by cleaning them with saline solutions and trying to keep them dry. However, his recommendations were dismissed. At the end of the war, Fleming returned to St. Mary’s Hospital where he was appointed Deputy Director of the Inoculation Department, of which he was Director in 1946, when he went on to become the Wright-Fleming Institute.

In 1928 he was appointed Professor of Bacteriology at the University of London, receiving the title of Professor Emeritus in 1948.

On November 21, 1921, Fleming made one of his first discoveries, when while reviewing a culture of bacteria, a drop of nasal secretion, produced by a strong flu affecting his health, fell into the colony. Fleming decided to wait and see if any reaction suffered.

A few weeks later, the bacteria were gone. The person responsible for this was Lisozima, a natural antiseptic enzyme, produced by the body. Although this substance could not fight the most resistant bacteria, its discovery contributed to the research of the immune system.

The Penicillin

On 3 September 1928, Fleming discovered that a colony of staphylococcus aureus had been contaminated with the contents of a mold of the Sepa Penicillium notatun (now known as P. chrysogenum) being destroyed by this fungus. Fleming first called his discovery “mold juice”, however he later named it Penicillin, in relation to the sepa involved.

After a while he managed to isolate the antibacterial substance produced by the fungus, testing it in different pathogenic colonies, being able to observe that these were destroyed. He also tested by injecting it into rabbits and mice, further proving that the culture was harmless to the cells. He had discovered the first antibiotic.

However, Penicillin had to be purified and stabilized in order to be applied in humans. In 1939, a team of scientists from the University of Oxford, comping Ernst Chain and Howard Florey, managed to do so. In 1941, Penicillin was first used successfully in humans. During World War II its use was implemented, opening a new chapter in wound treatment and infection control.

Recognitions and final years

In 1942, he became a member of the Royal Society. In 1945, he received the title of Sir and together with Florey and Chain received the Nobel Prize in Medicine, although the press decided to position him as the sole author.

He also became President of the Society of General Microbiology, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of all scientific and medical societies around the world.

In 1951, two years after the death of his first wife, he married Amalia Coutsouris-Voureka, a Greek-born mibrobiologist with whom he had worked since 1946. On 11 March 1955, Alexander Fleming died at his home in London, the victim of a heart attack, ending the life of one of history’s most influential scientists, whose discovery resulted in millions of lives saved around the world.

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Alexander Fleming Biography
Source: Education  
July 27, 2019

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