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PENICILLIN

The Use of Penicillin in Treating War Wounds (1944).

Medical Research Council, War Memorandum no.12.

The development of the first antibiotic, penicillin, involves a number of individuals. Popular medicine had technically been aware of antibiotics for some time; earlier remedies suggest placing poultices of mouldy bread onto wounds to stave off infections. More recently, Alexander Fleming discovered by accident in 1928 that mould growing in a petri dish in his laboratory had antibacterial properties. Ten years after this, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain isolated the bacteria-killing substance in the mould – penicillin. This antibiotic was produced in enough quantities to treat troops by D-Day in 1944 and was nicknamed the ‘wonder drug’.

Flemming, Florey and Chain were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1945 for this work. However, it was costly to produce and was not available for civilian patients for some time after this. Until the inception of the NHS in 1948, it was too expensive for most people to afford in any case. A policeman was one of the first non-servicemen in Worcester to receive penicillin for a carbuncle (collection of boils) on the back of his neck in 1943.