Penicillin Saves Nurse First

In March 1942, young nurse Anne Sheafe Miller lay near death in a Connecticut hospital with a temperature near 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celcius) caused by a streptococcal infection. After trying everything available to save her life, including sulfa drugs, blood transfusions, and surgery, doctors gave Nurse Miller an injection of a small amount of an experimental drug, penicillin. Overnight, Miller's fever decreased, and by the next day, she was alert and eating meals. Miller became the first person whose life was saved by penicillin, and afterward, American pharmaceutical companies quickly geared up to mass-produce the drug, first for soldiers overseas, then for the public at large. Anne Miller lived until she was ninety years old.

after a few days. They gave it to mice, and found it made bacteria infections go away. Soon, the drug was being produced in a large quantity, and used to treat people who were injured during the war. In 1945, Fleming, Florey, and Chain received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries related to penicillin.

Chain and Florey's work also revealed that there were several different forms of penicillin. All of them worked in a similar fashion but, under a microscope, each looked slightly different. Medical persons gave a form of the drug called penicillin V to World War II soldiers who had infected cuts (wounds). This was a considerable achievement. Before the discovery of penicillin, minor wounds turned into serious bacteria infections that eventually caused death. The use of penicillin during the war helped save many lives. By the time the war was over, companies in the United States were producing 650 billion units of penicillin each month.

Shortly after the war, Oxford chemist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodg-kin (1910-1994) revealed the complex structure of penicillin. Her discovery allowed scientists to come up with ways to make artificial (synthetic) forms of the drug.

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