Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The discovery of antibiotics is one of the most significant medical accomplishments of the last century. Their impact has been profound. Along with improvements in sanitation and vaccinations, the use of antibiotics remains at the forefront of our largely successful efforts to control infectious diseases. As with PCR, we owe the availability of antibiotics to evolution. They are not invented, they are produced naturally by a variety of different organisms.
The modern era of control of bacterial infections began in 1927 with the discovery by Alexander Fleming that extracts from the mold Penicillium notatum lysed bacterial cells. He was not able to isolate the active compound but gave it the name Penicillin after the mold’s genus. The active compound was eventually isolated and developed into a therapy in the early 1940’s by a groups led by Chan and Florey. For their efforts, they shared the 1945 nobel prize for physiology and medicine with Fleming. The receipt of the Nobel Prize just a few short years after the introduction of penicillin as a drug speaks to the impact this medication had.
Many new antibiotics have been introduced since the 1940's but Penicillin and penicillin like antibiotics remain in wide use, comprising almost 20% of all antibiotics manufactured.