Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 19, 2010
Ball-and-stick model of the streptomycin molecule.

Ball-and-stick model of the streptomycin molecule.

October 19, 1943: Streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective as a treatment for tuberculosis, is isolated by scientists working at Rutgers University. Selman Abraham Waksman was in charge of a lab at Rutgers. His graduate student, Albert Schatz, isolated the antibiotic we know as streptomycin whose formula is C21H39N7O12 arranged in a cascading chain. Waksman’s laboratory discovered several other antibiotics, streptomycin and neomycin showed the most extensive and wide-ranged use. Waksman is credited with coining the term “antibiotic.”

Because Schatz was a grad student, he was the one performing the tests. Because he was a student, he was using equipment and techniques under the direction of Waksman. The men argued over right of ownership of the discovery. Litigation produced an answer of sorts, allowing for co-discovery. However, a Nobel Prize was awarded solely to Waksman. The contention between the two men negatively impacted both of their lives and the controversy continues.

The first step in battling bacterial disease came when it was proved that the bacteria were the cause of the disease rather than miasma or bad humours. In the late 1800s, “good” bacteria was used to fight the “bad” bacteria that caused disease. The next step was to find the chemical in the “good” germ that was causing the desired result. The first substances found were toxic not only to the bacteria, but to the host.

Penicillin was the first antibiotic discovered in the year 1929. The public distrusted the drug it was used mostly to treat soldiers during WWII. There was a large fire in Boston with many burn victims. At the time, most burn victims died of infection secondary to the burn. Merck sent in the new drug, penicillin, and the patients were successfully treated. By 1946, antibiotic treatment was widespread.

“Half of the modern drugs could well be thrown out of the window, except that the birds might eat them.” – Dr. Martin Henry Fischer

“One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.” – Sir William Osler

“It is sometimes as dangerous to be run into by a microbe as by a trolley car.” – J.J. Walsh

“Orthodox medicine has not found an answer to your complaint. However, luckily for you, I happen to be a quack.” – Richter cartoon caption

Also on this day, in 1873 the rules for American football were first set down.

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