Thursday, March 22, 2012

Two races against a dead - line, when "dead" not just a figure of speech

It was probably in late October 1940 , induced by the strain of setting up the world's first ever use of  penicillin-the-antibiotic, that Dr Martin Henry Dawson began his long slow slide into a terminal case of MG (Myasthenia Gravis).

A Canadian study had only recently determined
that a sufferer from  MG at that time lived an average of four and a half years.

Some lived much longer --- some much less.

However a rational individual , such as Dr Dawson was, would say he had till late April 1945 to live out his life.

He was proved exactly right - dying April 27th 1945.

I can't say he died happy, but I can speculate he didn't die unhappy .

Dawson lived just long enough to have the highly skeptical medical community around the world accept his claim that (systemic) (naturally-grown penicillin) (can cure SBE) --- yes, even the toughest cases of this hitherto invariable fatal disease more formally known as Subacute Bacterial Endocarditis.

I have written before of the jaw-dropping fact that by 1950, just five short years later, it was widely agreed that SBE had become, to quote Dr Charles Friedberg in the world famous medical journal JAMA, "the most common form of heart disease that can be cured."

In early 1945, as Dawson lay dying, with his labours just completed, he won his race by the narrowest of margins.

 JAMA , house organ of the American Medical Association (AMA) finally agreed to feature his long article on his four and half year battle - against his colleagues, his own government and his own body - to offer up "PROOF OF CONCEPT" on his bold claims.

Because he actually made three different, equally bold, claims.

He said the incurable SBE could be cured.

He said penicillin was  much better as a systemic antibiotic, if people would only try it, than it ever was as Alexander Fleming's topical antiseptic.

Finally, and most boldly by far, he said naturally grown penicillin , grown by trillions of incredibly tiny little biotech factories called unicell fungi , would be cheaper, better, more available than anything chemists might be able to synthesize.

He said that the big wartime projects of MOdernity's 'Chemical Man' are not inevitably smarter than the efforts put for by the smallest and weakest members of Life.

In 1945 that offered up a stinging rebuke to the entire civilized world.

It was a sting felt never more strongly that in Germany, home of Modernist Chemistry, which had recently put its chemistry to its most spectacular use ever --- in the steam baths of Auschwitz.

He was proven right, then, on all three points and is still right today.

Dawson's decision to work with Nature, not against her, and work with Nature's 's weakest beings to save humanity's weakest beings, was COmmensality at its finest.

His battle to save a handful of SBE patients (judged to be the lowest of the low , the 4Fs of the 4Fs, during a war effort focussed on 1A soldiers) moved an older couple in Brooklyn New York .

They had lost a daughter in the age before Dawson introduced antibiotics into a doubting world.

The husband, egged on by his wife, resolved to do something about it.

At that time he was the boss of a medium sized company that was best known for making citric acid for the soda pop industry.

He would stick that company's neck way out on the line and gamble big on Dawson's claim that the tiny little penicillin factories could do the job better, faster, cheaper, safer, than anything American's chemists could come up with.

Once he made that decision he went all out - like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stockbroker Dodds in the short story, "A Shadow Before" , he became a bear in a bull stock market .

If his gamble failed - and all the betting money said it would - his firm would be ruined.

But Oh ! If it succeeded !

If it succeeded, penicillin would arrive just in time, after all, for the expected heavy casualties of D-Day and just in time for the millions of people around the world dying of infectious diseases as a result of years of wartime malnutrition.

His firm would smothered in thanks and drowned in profits.

That man, John L Smith, was proven right by Dawson and his firm, Pfizer, never did look back from that decision.

For Dawson, his race against a dead-line was a personal race --- to prove up his concept, against fierce resistance from his body and his government, before he himself was - dead.

On the same tiny island (Manhattan), in the same time period
(WWII) , at the same university (Columbia), there was another much better known race against a deadline.

This dead-line was peace - the end of the war.

If the war ended before the Manhattan Project offered up its "PROOF OF CONCEPT" by successfully wiping out a city filled with people and factories, the atomic bomb would die still born - billions spent but the bomb never used.

After all, billions were spent on poison gas and germ warfare yet none of it was ever used.

Because along with Peace came massive spending cuts on war projects.

All that research money would vanish forever, at war's end - unless there was PROOF OF CONCEPT of this untried super weapon.

It was this, not the fear of a Nazi Atomic Bomb, which had vanished in Britain or Russia by the Fall of 1942 and not incidentally both were the enemies of Germany most likely to be on the dying end of a German A Bomb, which actually drove the American Manhattan Project.

The dead in this dead-line was 100,000 dead civilians : PROOF OF CONCEPT personified in ash and traces on the concrete.

This cold callous mental calculation, by scientists as well as military men, was MOdernity at its very worst.

So, two parallel but totally different races against dead - lines , operating a few hundred metres apart from each other in Harlem : MOdernity versus COmmensality.

Now there's a story !

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