Friday, November 30, 2012

The mercky history of pre-war synthetic B1 ... and synthetic penicillin

What if Merck had quickly synthesized penicillin early in 1939, when it first started looking at the substance ? Remember this was before Europe was at war - let alone America, so Merck's normal peacetime behavior would have applied.

Romney economics in other words - not for nothing was the owner George W Merck a part time company owner and a full time back room Republican activist.

His behavior around thiamine is instructive on how he would have acted with synthetic penicillin.

 Thiamine is also called vitamin B1 and it prevents beriberi-like disease (like pellagra) among poor people forced to eat mostly over-refined grains.

It is the same life-giving stuff that millers so carefully remove from flour and bread and rice.

But now they were willing to put back in again - in a synthetic form - but at a price high enough to ensure few of the Great Depression's hungry could actually afford its benefits.

An altruistic chemist named Robert R Williams had searched for and invented a cheap way to create thiamine in the lab - he had then given the  resulting patent to the non-profit Research Corporation and hoped to see it got to supplementing the poor diets of the poor - by going into flour and bread at no charge.

But Merck had partially funded his research so it to had a say in how it would be used and sold.

Williams , son of Baptist ministers and a telephone company scientist in his day job, had long hoped to end the many nutrition-related deaths he saw caused by modern milling practises that only gave empty calories.

He did his work, much of it, in his garage, using his wife's washing machine as a centrifuge --- but Merck had helped with money and testing equipment, as had Martin Henry Dawson's university, Columbia.

Aaron Bobrow-Srain, consulting Williams' diaries from that period (found in the archive of Williams' papers), discovered that Merck (and General Mills) wanted an exclusive license if they were to mass produce and use synthetic B1 in bread .

They would charge a premium price and thus ensure it would only go to the bread eaten by the well to do - who hardly needed diet supplements to prevent the diseases more found commonly among poor people like southern share-croppers !

It took the war and a government order for the price of B1 to drop so that all bread got its life-saving qualities.

During the war, Merck made lots of B1, but at less per unit profit, but with a much greater volume they didn't exactly starve --- so busy in fact that they hardly had any time to make public domain natural penicillin.

First synthesize penicillin , then perfect it and patent it  with hopes to make tons of money on it : that would  enough to get George W Merck excited .

Too bad that only the well-to-do dying from infections would be able to afford the resulting perfectly synthesized penicillin ...

World War Two as an "Auto Immune" disease ...

Two examples readily at hand can give an 21st century insight into the faith-based/man-oriented science of 20th century Modernity.

One is that tenet of classical (cum current) economics that one can have perfect knowledge, potentially, of markets and prices.

 (Itself a spin off of that wider tenet of modernity's faith --- that ultimately Man will obtain perfect knowledge of Nature and Reality).

In fact, the real reason why over half our current economy is knowledge-based rather than involved in making physical things is because even obtaining a little knowledge is an expensive, complicated and imperfect life-long effort.

Another insight into the failings of modernity is a well known quote from Paul Ehrlich , the famous creator of chemo-therapy's first "magic bullet" and a founder of immunology.

Ehrlich claimed that horror autotoxicus was the norm for the human body, that pinnacle of evolutionary progress :  ie that the human immune response, like humanity in general, was so advanced  that it was totally incapable of ever mounting an immune attack - by mistake - against its own cells.

In fact, the list of diseases with a component of damage caused by our mis-firing immune system beating us up, (aka auto immune diseases) goes up day by day.

During WWII, the world's most modern civilizations, the nations that claimed to have finally put an end to centuries of magic, superstitions, hunger, poverty, misery and war, proceeded to tear modernity and civilization apart.

It was auto immune disease gone mad.

 The un-civilizied nations could only look upon it and wonder.

The post-colonial winds of change (and of doubt) began blowing in early 1942, in my opinion....

Gently nurturing of natural penicillium plants or brute force chemical synthesis : wartime penicillin definitely had "gender issues"

Recollect early wartime pictures of  clearly nubile young women holding milk bottles of live-giving penicillin to their chests.

Then recall war-end pictures of grave middle-aged men in white coats and pen protectors staring into instrument panels on the massive multi-storey stainless steel factory tanks making industrial penicillin.

A moral universe restored !

Wartime penicillin is a great study for feminist historians seeking to see how de-stabilizing natural penicillin and biology could be to 1930s-1940s era chemistry and gender relations ....

Impure natural penicillin, atomic steam engines versus pure synthetic penicillin and atomic bombs

Was Howard Florey the Harold Urey of wartime penicillin - was Harold Urey the Howard Florey of  wartime atomic energy ?

Impure natural penicillin powder was often called yellowcake, as was impure natural uranium powder : they are often hard to tell apart, at a glance.

Both are, to the right sort of twisted mind, nightmares chemically .

Penicillin is so closely related chemically to its (relatively harmless) natural impurities that it takes an army of chemists and a factory of expensive machinery to separate them apart.

In the beginning there were about one part penicillin to one million parts impurities : so you can see the work was cut out for our chemists.

But you don't have to all of this to do something useful with penicillin  --- to save lives with natural penicillin.

Uranium is ever worse, in some twisted minds .

U-235 and U-238 are the exact same chemically, differing only in atomic weight and even that slightly.

U-235 is found mixed with U-238, 150 parts U-238 to one of U235, a much greater ratio than found in the original penicillin.

But it can't be separated chemically and so is separated in mile square plants that cost about one trillion in today's dollars and work so slowly that material that goes into the process 50 years earlier might still be in there, circulating back and forth through the miles and miles of processing tubes and screens.

Each plant uses about as much energy as a poor small third world nation does in its entirety.

Raw, abundant U238 can do useful work - as it could in 1940 - creating steam in atomic ( nuclear) engines in submarines as the US Navy originally proposed.

Raw abundant natural penicillin can do useful work - as it could in 1940 - saving lives.

There is no real consensus on the most ignominious movements in Modernity : the choice is so broad - but Van Bush and the OSRD's touting of U-235 atomic bombs and synthetic penicillin rank well up there.

Both were potentially Nobel prize winning efforts (if either  had worked as well as planned) but neither were anything but expensive diversions on the way to winning the war....

Why urban solutions to rural problems delayed life-saving penicillin for 15 wasted years ...

It is a lie to say that natural penicillin is highly unstable or filled with deadly impurities. It is true however that Fleming's original strain of penicillium yielded so little penicillin that the resulting un-concentrated penicillin filtrate was too weak to cure a patient when given by IV, without literally 'watering' the patient to death in the process.

Unfortunately, penicillin was relatively unstable, so that any amount of heavy concentrating of it, to a point where IV injections became life-savers, usually destroyed most of the penicillin in the process.

The chemists had a modern city-boy solution - a terrible synthetic solution - that killed far more life-saving penicillin than it yielded.

The best solution, in fact,  was to greatly up the yield of penicillin per penicillium plant , just like any old fashioned farmer would have done with their milk cows.

Thousands of years old (or new), breeding still works its simple magic to this day.

When a few people actually went the farmers' route instead of the chemists route, the crisis in wartime penicillin was over - forever.

Using a few bits of low tech equipment that you could find in any hardware store, like $10 UV sun lamps , they soon upped the yield by 500 times.

Since then it has been upped further by an amazing 50  to 100 times more.

Profits can still be made in penicillin making but the smart guys in those Indian companies doing so, don't rely on patents.

The complicated chemistry techniques down stream from the actual creation of raw natural penicillin is all pretty well known and in the public domain.

But the profit centre deep inside those factories is a trade secret , or as farmers would say, my prize bull, and mine and mine alone .

This prize bull of a penicillium spore, chews a bit of cheap trashy junk sugar and then squirts out more squirts of the joy-juice than Ron Jeremy has had hot dinners.

The downstream chemical work might not be of the Harvard University grade but who cares, the prize bull has delivered so much goods, that the chemists can afford to spoil a little .....

A philosopher could have brought us life-saving penicillin years earlier than ten thousand chemists did

The claim that the only solution to penicillin's tiny yield, instability and impurities was to synthesize it sounded so good back in the 1930s and early 1940s - to scientists.

But perhaps not so good to philosophers .

But unfortunately philosophers were not asked to help out and did not thrust themselves forward.

So while millions died needlessly around the world between 1935 and 1945, professional philosophers - damn their eyes ! - just talked to other philosophers.

To paraphrase Michael Bliss, 'enough blame for all' : for both the chemistry-besotted scientists and the navel gazing philosophers.

To synthesize penicillin or any biological molecule in the 1930s and 1940s meant first separating it totally from its related impurities.

Now, by crystallizing it into pure 100% crystals, it was possible to begin to break those pure crystals of penicillin into its smaller subunits of linked atoms and begin the usually easy synthesizing of those subunits.

Finally, the real complicated art was to assembly all those subunits in the right shape so the molecule would have still have antibacterial qualities.

Knowing the correct letters and the correct number of each letter is just a start in building an unknown paragraph.

Now imagine having to create a three dimensional paragraph that makes sense - different sense, but sense - when read with its interconnected sentences sprayed in all four directions !

That' s what a biological molecule is : a slightly flexible piece of  recently chewed gum, with its active site (all of its value) in a tiny crease somewhere in the chewed inner edge of the piece of gum .

Wiggle (via chemistry) the gum a bit one way : useless ; a little in another way, a precious life-saver.

Your only aid is that chemistry is like a language and in any language, some letters are more common than others and more likely to go into certain letter orders than others --- just as words and sentences tend to follow others more or less predictably.

But chemistry syntax is as loosey-goosey as any real live language tends to be : lots left for slow trial and error.

We have been patiently trying to make quinine better and cheaper than Nature does for over 200 years - and chemists, even today, still can't do it : this Everest of chemistry remains unconquered though every serious chemist gives it a crack.

That was the second mistake penicillin chemists made : ignoring quinine's centuries of chemists' failures for more recent easy chemists' successes making other biological molecules.

The first mistake though was more in the realm of first year university logic.

Picture a handful of future Nobel prize winning chemists forced to squeeze behind an undergraduate's desk and explain to a philosopher of logic just why they were proposing to synthesize penicillin rather than simply, farmer-like, upping its biological yield.

To crystallize penicillin, the chemists patiently explain,  we need grams and grams of penicillin molecules, in very stable condition, and totally free of the closely related impurities that now irritate the patient getting the injection.

Right now, we are just getting 1 part pure penicillin to 1 million parts rubbish ( ie 1 microgram of actual penicillin , mixed in with 99.99% rubbish) per gram of 'natural'
 penicillin, and its very unstable.

So, says the philosopher slowly, like a spider to a fly, you hope to succeed in gets lots of pure stable  natural penicillin ---congratulations !

But why then bother with the difficult task of synthesizing it - haven't you already succeeded in your employers' real end goal ?

God knows, even senior chemists might begin to sense the logic in that proposal.....

Would penicillin have been available for patients in 1930, if Fleming had produced his '29 paper - and then died ?

If only pneumonia had killed Alec, not John....
Imagine - if you will - that you're at a medical meeting - one of hundreds and hundreds that Alexander Fleming routinely attended between the Fall of 1928 and the Fall of 1942 and you happen to overhear Fleming regaling a small audience in the corridor about his 'wonderful' penicillin.

It is, he says (translated into today's medical terminology) a wide spectrum totally non-toxic anti-bacterial agent , the only one he as ever seen that doesn't harm the natural healing powers of the body's blood.

It is, Fleming says with great force , simply a great lab clearing agent for vaccine studies and potentially a useful antiseptic...

....And ? AND ?!  You wait for the other shoe to drop, somewhat impatiently : how is it as a systemic, for saving those dying from bacterial infections ?

Oh that, says Fleming indifferently , its useless for that.

And, he adds brutally honestly , as an antiseptic it is slow acting and is so unstable that it will only be useful if the chemists can synthesize it - but they haven't so far.

For fourteen years , I believe only one man stood between penicillin the potential life-saver for millions and penicillin the actual life saver for millions and that man was - unfortunately - Alexander Fleming.

The history of penicillin might have been quite different if only he and not his brother John had died of the pneumonia that Fleming's 1928 imperfect penicillin would have cured.

I can not believe that Fleming could offer such frequent public build-ups of his wonderful penicillin without someone in the audience venturing : well how do you rate its life-saving systemic qualities then ?

Fleming in his honest (but incorrect) way , would have had to say in public what he deliberately omitted from his published articles : 'as a systemic, I believe that penicillin is useless'.

This - more than anything someone else did or didn't do - dammed penicillin to wander useless in the desert for 15 years : its own discoverer damning it with the very faintest of praise ....

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Penicillin, "the" substance produced penicillium molds"

Penicillin was not doing anything useful throughout the 1930s ( like being injected into dying patients), but it was not exactly unknown in many areas of science : biochemistry, botany and mycology, general medicine, microbiology , pharmaceuticals.

I have sufficient articles and references from that time period to notice a very interesting pattern, I believe, in terminology.

Penicillin is frequently described as "the" substance described by "Fleming", not "a" substance described by "Alexander Fleming, the British bacteriologist."

It is almost as if the audience is expected to have already heard of penicillin - as something in the air.

Fleming did get about a lot, was a great gossip and an avid attender of meetings and conferences.

And he always seemed to manage to mention penicillin in these corridor gossip sessions.

All this happened, of course,  in a very big national medical and scientific centre and in fact in a central hub and way station of world-wide medical research and science generally.

Europeans or Americans on route to each other, often passed through 1930s London, en route, as they still do today.

And of course, London-originated  journals (like Nature and Lancet) had virtually 100% circulation coverage in every part of the world claiming to be a credible place of research.

So in 1937, it seemed natural that the powers to be at the big American drug company, Squibb, asked a staffer to do a literature search and assessment of this penicillin substance.

This was before sulfa had really hit its stride and well before Dubos has produced the (toxic but effective) antibiotic gramacidin.

And the fact that penicillin had enough articles on it to make a literature search worth while again shows it was taken seriously across many sectors of medicine and science.

But, I believe, Fleming's damming personal - if off the record - assessment that it was totally useless for systemic use hindered casual investigators taking it seriously.

But what penicillin needed was someone who only read the evidence in Fleming's original 1929 article and saw something in the evidence that no one else saw and got passionate about penicillin's possibilities for systemic use.

Someone who never heard Fleming put down systemic penicillin or had heard him many times and as a result had dismissed , generally, as a bit of a old fool.

Perhaps, someone like Martin Henry Dawson....

"Goaty Penicillin" : how Big Science contaminated natural penicillin at least as much as it 'purified' it

GOATY penicillin
Is it actually a legal requirement that academic historians write peans to Van Bush, the OSRD and Big Science in World War II , before they get a sizeable grant ?

One might think so.

Very few historians have ever questioned whether it is really true -based on evidence, not on mere faith - that natural penicillin was 'rescued'  by "Big Science" .

Rescued when penicillin was no longer made in hospital labs, close to the time & space that the hospital's patients was about to receive it, and instead was made in huge plants many weeks earlier and thousands of miles away .

Mom's biscuits, made fresh - right before her kids' eyes - moments before they ate them ---- they had to be unsafe eating, right ??  ----especially compared to biscuits made in a huge factory half a continent away and weeks earlier.

Most of us don't think so - Mom's biscuits didn't need any chemical preservatives to be edible - but industrial food ?

Full of the stuff.

Store bought biscuits are just full of traces of chemical preservatives.

True natural penicillin often did have natural impurities, materials made at the same time that penicillin itself was by the penicillium mold.

But were they unsafe ? The evidence simply isn't there that they ever caused death or serious harm.

Yes when penicillin was "purified" , some of these natural impurities were removed but also some were converted via chemical reactions with powerful solvents, into un-natural chemicals.

And traces of the solvents themselves are often dangerous - perhaps even more so than the natural impurities they were introduced to remove !

Technically, these chemicals are not (natural) impurities at all but contaminants (added during processing).

Some how, the chemistry-obsessed doctors and medical bureaucrats behind Big Science penicillin never publicly mentioned the new contaminants they had just introduced.

 All they did was warn the public and other doctors against supposedly "dangerous" natural impurities ----- made by their free lance "natural " competitors in the hospital labs.

But by 1970, people could be more frank in print.

 Industrial penicillin pioneer Ronald Hare described Canada's first batch of industrial penicillin (April 26th 1944) as 20 million units of strong goaty smelling penicillin.

 This was thanks to traces of the rancid-smelling caprylic alcohol used in the processing (one of about a couple dozen strong chemicals used !) and  - sigh ! - still as dirty yellow as any hospital lab made penicillin......

Dawson long been obsessed with SBE ? Show me ! 'Cause I'm from Missouri ...

Dawson & SBE ?! well I'm from MISSOURI
Even Gladys Hobby says so.

And God Knows, she should know almost better than anyone but Dawson himself.

In her book on penicillin, "Meeting the Challenge", she claims that Dawson had become "especially interested in subacute bacterial endocarditis" (SBE , a heart valve disease).

But no dates when and no specifics. All other writers repeat her claim and again offer no specifics.

I have always been skeptical.

Dawson's day job was running an outpatient clinic in chronic arthritis .

This , at a pre-war large research hospital where discipline borders were heavily policed and where there was a distinct pecking order , from live-saving surgery at the top and outpatient clinics at the bottom.

It still remains true today that dentists don't do open heart surgery and outpatient clinic directors don't handle heart valve diseases.

It is admitably true that in his course of Dawson's job, which consisted in handling the arthritis ( joint inflammation) aspects of every single sort of disease that offers it (and virtually every disease imaginable can offer arthritis pain, if only in a few patients and only transiently) , he would on occasion come across patients with a potential for endocarditis.

But normally a patient who actually had endocarditis in the 1930s was someone with a 99% certainty of a quick death and their arthritis issues were hardly a priority.

In his subsection of his overall department (Internal Medicine) there were people who did work on Rheumatic Fever (RF) and RF frequently ends in SBE, but they specifically tasked not to share RF research with Dawson's clinic.

(They surely exchanged insights and gossips, but only informally.)

During the hospital Grand Rounds, Dawson would definitely come across SBE patients as it was a heart-breakingly common disease to be seen at big hospitals in those days.

But so would every doctor in every big hospital on Earth in 1940 --- so why didn't  hundreds of other doctors  also take up the chance to try the new penicillin on SBE ?

Instead of SBE, Dawson had many other diseases to interest himself in that were closer to the nominal limits of his clinic.

To give but one example of alternate diseases Dawson could have branched into, Dawson did frequently work with patients who had gonorrhea (VD/the clap) because a very common aspect of their disease was arthritis problems.

So, for example, he was one of the first to use the new sulfa diseases on patients with gonorrheal arthritis, starting in March 1937.

But he did not, as a result of this frequent and work-related contact with patients with venereal disease, decide to try Meyer's experimental penicillin on syphilis --- that bold experiment was left to others years later.

So we circle around the issue again : why SBE, a disease so far away from his job definition that him getting involved could only rankle all-powerful senior doctors across the entire hospital?

And if Dawson had a long interest in endocarditis ,where was the proof ?

I am not aware of any published articles by Dawson*, between 1926 -1940,  that even mentioned SBE .

His many recorded comments at conferences in those years also fail to include words involving SBE.

In that same period, Dawson wrote various chapters in medical handbooks (Nelson's Loose Leaf and Cecil's) that involved many aspects of oral strep bacteria , an area where he was considered a world expert, but again nothing on endocarditis, even though SBE originates with the actions of two varieties of oral strep bacteria.

He could have waxed widely here, without raising too many hackles - but again nothing. (By contrast, his young co-worker Thomas H Hunter did write the chapter on SBE in both these textbooks, after Dawson's premature death.)

No specifically medical or scientific explanation for Dawson's sudden and overwhelming interest in SBE

The strong possibility remains - in my studied view - that his sudden and permanent interest in curing SBE with penicillin even at the cost of his own life, has to be set, instead,  against Fall 1940's political and military background in still-neutral America.

We might have to look at why and how Dawson finally got involved in a tremendous effort in WWI , to suggest why and how Dawson choose to get involved in a parallel tremendous effort in WWII.

Substitute WWII Belgium for SBE and Dawson's actions start to become clearer....

* I am unable to find any articles by his three co-workers on the SBE-penicillin project that reference endocarditis, even in passing.

I may be wrong on all this : but show me !

Almost 15 years after Penicillin discovered, most of the world's serious penicillin cases had been treated by one doctor : Martin Henry Dawson

1943 Annual Report, Columbia University
In the Spring of 1943, Columbia University released its Annual Report and mentions , in passing, that Dr MH Dawson had supervised the treatment of 65 serious cases with penicillin for the National Research Council.

(Generally Columbia's lengthy wartime annual reports successfully managed to avoid talking about penicillin - a sure sign that it was ignored by academic science elsewhere as well throughout the war.)

If we can take "serious" to mean "treated systemically" , that probably means that the largest percentage of the world's systemic penicillin cases up to that point in time had been done by Dr Dawson alone !

(It is unclear whether or not the five endocarditis cases and the unknown number of other illnesses treated by Dawson with penicillin in 1940-1941 before the NRC got involved are among that total , but in any case it is an astounding figure.)

What we among the non-medical laity may still want to know is why was the world's best ever lifesaver ignored for so long by almost every other doctor in the world  ----  except by Dr Dawson ?

Why was his vision of the potential of hospital grown natural penicillin so different from their's ?

Has a cure for cancer already been found but no doctors recognize it ?

Was penicillin really a "Miracle" drug, a miracle instantly seen by all as is typical with Bible miracles - or was it more like the message to the three poor shepherd children at Fatima - a secret given only to those who retain a child's openness to new things ?

If almost all the world's doctors can ignore the open secret of penicillin right under their noses for 15 years way back then, would they recognize a cure for cancer if it appeared in the medical literature today ?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How Parke-Davis could have made a fortune in 1929 from the ultimate in generic drugs : natural penicillin

Parke-Davis, as seen from my folks' homes
A medication made by some natural being out in Nature is the 'ultimate generic drug'  ---- being PD (Public Domain) from its birth, which possibly occurred hundreds of millions of years before Humanity first noticed it.

Penicillin - in theory - is one such 'ultimate generic drug' , but was it in fact, in 1929 ?

Many strains of various bacteria and molds make penicillin-like beta-lactam materials but most do so in such small quantities that it takes very sensitive testing to discover their existence.

As such, St Mary's hospital in 1929 had the only two known strains of  microbes known to make sufficient penicillin to be useful to man.

The original mold had been gathered as part of John Freeman's pioneering studies in allergies.

 (Freeman's researches were the only part of the entire Wright-Fleming money-making empire that had any longterm scientific validity - as evidenced by being the only part of the Institute that a drug company, Beecham, was actually willing to part good money for in the 1950s after Fleming and Wright were safely in their graves.)

Spores from Freeman's unique mold had drifted up to Fleming's lab and so the hospital now controlled two copies of the same unique strain of mold.

Parke-Davis lost its chance to remain the world's biggest drug company

The Institute had a close contractual relationship with what was then the world's biggest and best research-oriented drug company - Detroit's Parke-Davis.

 (Their enormous ( for their day) research labs were/are clearly visible right across the river from both my parents' home in Windsor Ontario.)

Patents were impossible for natural drugs but hardly needed, for St Mary's/Parke-Davis controlled the only source of the vital reagent needed to make penicillin : their unique strain of penicillium.

Keep that strain in-house and they could have a profitable monopoly forever.

Think this wildly unlikely ?

How do you think today's real penicillin makers still act ?

They develop in-house strains of penicillium and never patent them or share them.

The down-stream techniques after the penicillium express the penicillin juice are/were patented and hence public, for a fee.

But they are useless without a stable, high producing penicillium strain : one can afford to be quite cavalier with one's chemical engineering efficiencies when your unique strain out-produces all your competitors by an order or two of magnitude !

Trade Secrets rather than patents remain the most profitably business method in the biological drug business - now in 2012 as in 1928 .

When Fleming, after he too-quickly dismissed penicillin for systemic use, started freely giving away penicillium spores as a low value lab clearing agent, he ruined any hopes that Parke-Davis and St Mary's might put heavy money in penicillin production and promotion.

Ironically when he thus destroyed the early commercial hopes for penicillin production, his spores out there in the wider medical world, successfully kept the MRC/NAS/OSRD triad from delaying wartime penicillin any longer than they already did....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Penicillin Diplomacy DOESN'T come to Franco's Spain

Falangist denied penicillin August '44
Allied post-1943 "Penicillin Diplomacy" was not exactly perfectly aligned with the humanitarian values of Dr Martin Henry Dawson.

He felt his fellow doctors and scientists should buck down and make lots of his "imperfect but good enough" natural penicillin and give it out freely to all who are dying of diseases it could treat.

Instead they were standing around, as at a railway siding outside Auschwitz with jack boots and whip , dividing seriously ill humanity into two lines : you live/ you die.

Playing God.  Just like the Nazi doctors.

All the while placing all the blame for penicillin rationing squarely upon Big Pharma's 15 year delay in producing penicillin.

The same penicillin that Dawson and a few like-minded colleagues felt that any hospital lab tech with a high school diploma could routinely make (to directly quote the equally irate Dr Jimmy Duhig from Brisbane Australia.)

If only hospital doctors would let them.

So let us look at another example of Penicillin Diplomacy, again from the Spanish-speaking world , where this time the dying child was not so lucky.

The baby daughter of the Secretary General of Franco's Falange Party, Senor Moral Figuerres, was refused help about the same time that an international soccer star,  Thomas Abegglen was offered British penicillin.

His neutral country, Switzerland, was considered to be helpful, while Franco's neutral Spain was not.

Bomb babies or refuse them penicillin : Allied death came in many forms...

Letting innocent Spanish baby girls die was one way as good as any to make Franco see the Allied position in a different light ruled those chappies at the British Foreign Office.

In addition, saving a soccer star with diplomatic penicillin promised to see the propaganda message reach a very large class of individuals unmoved by images of saving dying babies.

Individuals with penises, who couldn't really face the harsh wartime realities of Stalingrad, picking up their socks and taking out the garbage and preferred instead to retreat to the synthetic warfare of the sports page instead...

Penicillin Diplomacy comes to Cuba November 12 1943

Batista wooed by PENICILLIN
An American warplane flies south throughout the night in November 1943, all in an effort to deliver scarce American government penicillin to save the life of a small son of Cuban lawyer Angel Diaz Soto.

The effort is widely reported in all the semi-official American media such the New York Times, media that were read all around the world by government elites seeking to discern the attitudes of the largest member of the rising Allied powers of World War Two.

This particular tea leaf wasn't hard to read : penicillin was no longer to be a secret weapon of war, just for American soldiers ; but now was to be an instrument of peace , open to all the nations of the world willing to take up the yoke of defeating the evil Nazis.

Look, this effort said in effect, can you picture the Nazis giving something like life-saving penicillin to the child of an unknown civilian in small little forgotten bit of the world ?

Dawson Diplomacy

Call it Penicillin Diplomacy or Dawson Diplomacy, it doesn' really matter : what matters it that it became more and more widely practised in the last months of the war as penicillin became an evergrowing potent symbol of hope after Hitler was defeated.....

HARRY LIME : from war hero to infamous cinematic villain

Just one of HARRY LIME's "dots"
(See note below added, Dec 4 2012)

It is easy to imagine our Harry (Lime) in July 1943, just back from Hamburg as an Allied bomber pilot dropping fire bombs on Axis children, mere "dots", thousands of feet below him : a war hero, in other words.

Just as easy as imagining our Harry in 1949 Vienna, still a member of an Allied nation and still killing Axis children, only this time with watered-down penicillin.

But something has clearly changed : because now he is regarded as a a villain, in fact one of cinema's all time worst villains.

The difference, I argue, is all down to the fact that Dr Martin Henry Dawson's foolish 1940 war aim had , by 1949, become our war aim too.

In September 1940, Dawson felt that the best way for 'the coalition of the willing few' to win over the hearts and minds of the neutral vast majority of the world's nations into joining in to defeat the Nazis ,was by treating the 'least of these' , those 'useless feeders' the Nazis were so busily killing off in Aktion T4 , with all dignity and worthiness we would want for ourselves.

The flux of Dawson's "parable of action" was to be his own "imperfect but good enough" penicillin.

But instead penicillin had started off,  in the American version of WWII  at least, as something to be heavily censored and something (once leisurely polished by the medical world to a state of 110% perfection) to be reserved only for the blue-eyed and blond A1s of the armed forces.

Used as a "weapon of war" as the NAS (America's science elite) described it.

So penicillin was to be reserved for the young men overseas who had cheated on their girlfriends back home and got a dose of the non-fatal clap ( which had a variety of cures - some taking much longer than others).

Many men in the American combat arms, because of that nation's cruel policy of non-rotation of front line units, had deliberately contracted the clap while on leave, hoping to avoid the meat-grinder of un-ending combat service by a month or two of 'taking the cure'.

And who can blame them ?

Blame instead those rear echelon males who advocated penicillin for combat clap cases:
'Better they get scarce penicillin and hence a quick cure and quickly back into the deathtrap of the front lines than my number get called up  and I end up there,'

was the self-centred attitude of the non-combat majority of Allied males.

Meanwhile, back home, the girlfriends of the boys overseas, faithful onto death, were themselves dying of disease like SBE that were invariably fatal.

And there was only one possible cure : penicillin.

Dawson wanted the government, right from the beginning, to make  his 'good-enough' penicillin a national priority, so there was no false dichotomy between saving civilians versus saving soldiers.

He felt the penicillin scarcity was artificial ---- and deliberate , a pushback at ideas of Social Medicine (the idea that all, poor or rich, had an absolute right of access to life-saving treatment).

The whine of 21st century Republican complaints against Obama medicare,  in old 1940s bottles.

Because SBE like its cause, Rheumatic Fever, was both a progressive re-occurring disease and a disease of the poor, few in the medical elite saw much economic return in saving the SBE's lives.

The disease would only come back and curing it again would consume yet more resources, while even the 'healthy' SBEs, because of their weak heart valves, were often too weak to do hard physical work ---- and too ill-educated to be worth much when they did work.

Best deny them penicillin ( by claiming the disease could not be cured) and let them die.

But Dawson said any nation, in the midst of an all-out Total War,  seen as willing to save even 'useless feeder' SBEs (the 4Fs of the 4Fs) sent a powerful message to all the rest of the world.

It reassured them that all of humanity - even the weakest and the most 'useless'  - would be treated fairly and kindly, under an Allied world.

In late 1943, the Allies started to slowly come around to Dawson's idea as they stopped censoring penicillin stories and started instead to turn it into an item of radio and leaflet propaganda , a symbol of better things to come for all, if only all the world joined the Allies and defeated the Nazis.

To make this promise tangible, they started sending still-scarce penicillin, in widely publicized flights, to dying children in neutral nations, to prove they meant what they claimed.

Monstrances of Hope : Monstrances of Slime

Penicillin, the foul byproduct of basement slime had been converted into the symbol of Goodness, those tiny vials of life-giving yellow held aloft like monstrances of hope.

For Harry then to seize and pervert this heavenly symbol of life for heartless profit, while children - even children of the hated Axis - died horrible deaths, was  now regarded as unspeakably evil - seen almost literally as the work of The Devil himself....

Dec 4th 2012 : I have just read Philip Kerr's essay "Seeing Greene" , partly of the print booklet in the Criterion Collection re-issue of The Third Man on DVD, which makes pretty much the same points as I have about Harry Lime's post war behavior to Axis kids and bomber pilots behavior towards them, from 10,000 feet up, during the war.....

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Meet the DOCTOR MOM who brought us wartime penicillin when it could do us some good, not 5 years after the war ended

Her name is Mary Louise (Pelliter Becker) Smith,  but she was much better know as Mrs Mae Smith or Mrs John L Smith.

That was because Mary Louise Smith was what her eldest daughter, born 1918 in New Jersey, was called by all.

Or rather, had been called by all.

Mary Louise junior was at the family summer home in Stonington Connecticut sometime in the 1930s when she contracted spinal meningitis and quickly died in theNew London Connecticut hospital.

There was effective treatments for some of the various forms of meningitis in the 1930s that reduced the death total from 100% down to still very high levels from between 50% to 25% .

Serum worked on two forms of the disease but required repeated highly skilled injections into the spinal cord area - sulfa which came along in the late 1930s, had a similar success rate.

But if the root cause was the pneumonia bacteria, the death rate remained at 100%.

Penicillin reduced that to between 50% to 30% and penicillin had been found to be extremely effective on pneumonia bacteria as far  back as the Fall of 1928, by Alexander Fleming.

But he didn't believe it would work by injection - despite never having tried to see if what he believed was actually factual.

His laziness was needlessly fatal for millions - in particular for his own brother and for Mary Louise Smith.

Dawson's passion got to Doctor Mom

Dr Martin Henry Dawson always was plain spoken - he believed from the start that natural penicillin at the state of development it was in the Fall of 1928 (or the Fall of 1940 or 1943) was more than good enough ready to save lives .

If we only had enough penicillin from the drug companies, he'd say, we could start saving these children dying needlessly of diseases like spinal meningitis and endocarditis.

Now Mary Louise junior's father , John L Smith, was a charitable man but an exceedingly cautious man --- but  he was also senior enough at the 'fine chemicals' firm where he worked, to it do his bidding if he wished.

I firmly believe that once his wife, Mae, picked up the essence of Dawson's sermonette, she never let up on her husband to move forward as fast as morally possible on making lots of penicillin.

'Our daughter is dead but there is no need for us to sit back and watch our frinds' daughters die needlessly'.

Mae was John L's moral compass and she was like a bloodhound on this issue.

Eventually her pleadings and the sight of enough dying baby girls, moved even the cautious John L.

And when he did decide to move, he moved fast and he moved hard.

In five short months his firm was producing almost more natural penicillin than the world knew what to do with it : penicillin and Pfizer never looked back.

All thanks to a tragedy, an impassioned doctor and Doctor Mom.....

Florey's first IMPURE penicillin injections were definitely forced upon him, as a PLAN B sop

When Howard Florey at Oxford University had decided in early 1938 that he would investigate the theoretical aspects of  antibiotic antagonisms, he said he would not inject them to test for their therapeutic possibilities until they were pure : crystalline pure.

Crystal substances being then regarded as 100% pure.

But after he learned - probably sometime in November 1940 - that he had definitely upstaged in October 1940 by Martin Henry Dawson injecting patients after only 5 weeks of work on penicillin, Florey definitely had to lower his standards .

Dawson pushed Florey (and the NAS/OSRD/MRC triad) into PLAN B to try and catchup

So in early 1941, three years after he began work on penicillin, Florey also began, reluctantly, injected patients with impure penicillin of about the same strength as Dawson's penicillin, which is to say not very pure.

Pure penicillin has 1670 units of strength per mg : Florey's was between 20 and 50 units per ml , ie about 2% pure and 98% impurities.

Dawson hadn't worried much about purity, regarding food as perfectly safe even though it is often only a few percent pure protein by weight : as the hungry man once said, as long as impurities were relatively harmless, bring 'em on, pizza boy ....

Florey & Dawson's argument over wartime penicillin : Analogue or Parable?

Sharp eyed grammar experts will quickly argue that there is no real difference between analogue and parable :  they are both forms of analogy and denote the same basic things. But even they will admit, their connotations are quite different.

When it comes to drugs like penicillin, an analogue (aka the so called "me too" drugs) are knockoffs of another drug, often one produced by nature and hence in the public domain. They differ just enough from the original to be deemed patentable : profitably patentable. All easily understood.

But penicillin as a parable - like Jesus's parables, for Christ's Sake ! - how on Earth is that possible ?

Analogue penicillin is exactly what Howard Florey, Merck, the MRC, the NAS and the OSRD all spent many years and millions of tax dollars to achieve : but they totally failed to create a synthetic analogue to natural penicillin.

Instead, all the penicillin that actually saved lives during the war was Henry Dawson's natural "parable" penicillin ---- and natural production is still the basis of all our life-saving penicillins to this day.

But I am dodging your original question : how on Earth was Dawson's penicillin a parable ?

How Dawson's 1940 war aims became the Allied war aims, by 1944

On September 9th 1940, the movement for WAR medicine had definitely won out over the movement for SOCIAL medicine in America  (and all around the world wherever nations were at war or preparing for war).

Social medicine was an effort to be as ready to find cures for the diseases that afflict the poor as to find cures for the diseases of the rich ----  even if the poor couldn't fund the research or pay much for the treatments once they were developed.

Dawson was an advocate of Social Medicine.

War Medicine was a bit of an euphemism, because it really meant a focus on drugs and treatments that would be profitable because they were oriented at the diseases of the well off.

During the war, the War medicine movement was guised as claiming we simply must downplay all work on diseases for the "useless eater" 4F poor, whose cure won't help the war effort much.

Instead, limited money and resources meant we must focus on curing the diseases and injuries of the 1A men in the military, who are needed to end the war successfully.

But Dawson felt the Allied cause would only be militarily successful when it first won the world's hearts and minds, by showing that the Allies cared for all : white and colored, rich and poor, sick and healthy.

He saw this new "war medicine" approach as an example of sinking to the level of the Axis Nazis, all in an effort to defeat them.

For Dawson, that would be a pyrrhic victory indeed !

In his own day job,(arthritis research), he saw a declining amount of upper class interest in charity to those (mostly poor) who had Rheumatic Fever and SBE and an increasing amount of attention to self-interested "self help groups" of upper class women trying to prevent diseases like polio that mostly hit people like themselves.

In terms of the war itself, Dawson who had won medals for bravery in WWI in the Canadian Army, had had to watch and listen helplessly as all-mighty America stood idle as the Nazis gobbled up one small nation after another : the Czechs, Poles, Danes, Norwegians, Dutch and Belgians.

Now Britain was expected to be invaded by the Nazi war machine that very week ---- and still America did nothing.

Dawson had been raised in a very religious family but claimed to no longer believe himself, but something in the 25 years of religious instruction still clung to him, even if only at the sub conscious level.

The wisest and the most powerful people in American Science :  the self-anointing Academy of American Science, the NAS, were strongly pro War medicine and they controlled almost all the resources.

They were seen as both wise and mighty.

Very well, Dawson would do the total reverse: he would act 'foolish' and work with the weak.

Now we do not know what Dawson felt, on the conscious level let alone on his sub conscious level, but we do see definite patterns in his actual behavior in those five early weeks of his penicillin effort - patterns inconsistent with most of his life until then.

He had never been involved in drug development before now - a process that is vastly elaborate and expensive and extends many years, over many organizations, before the drug is deemed ready to be injected.

It is a process that positively reeks of professional dignity and decorum taking its good old time, slowly grinding on and on, like the mills of the gods.

So he set out to do it as foolishly and as undignified as possible : and did up the entire job from start to finish, in less than 5 weeks !

And he did it with a very small team, (4 people in total) using tiny scraps of unused space all over the hospital : corridors, fire escapes, under seats in auditoriums ,to create a full sized pilot plant to grow and process natural penicillin.

He did not seek out the institutional money and support from drug companies and America's all powerful Foundations.

He used tiny, unpopular, penicillin producers - the smelly slime found on basement walls - and then dared to inject the result - impure and dirty - into human veins.

Even his patients were from the poor and the weak : American's 4Fs of the 4Fs : young male SBE patients.

Part of the special terror of Rheumatic Fever (RF) is that it is not a one time disease.

Even if you beat it once, it now finds it easier to come back a second and third time, because each incident leaves you more vulnerable to the next attack.

Similarly for SBE , subacute bacterial endocarditis : when Rheumatic Fever damages your heart valves, this sets them up to become the new home of normally harmless teeth bacteria ,who slowly but surely killed 96 out of every 100 patients on the first go round.

Like RF, SBE comes back time and again, as each attack leaves your valves more and more damaged and open to the bacteria's return.

So even if penicillin could cure SBE - and no one on earth but Dawson believed it could - another attack would come and require yet more hospital treatments and probably kill the weakened heart for sure this time.

No rational army general or factory owner wanted SBE youths : they were simply an expensive death sentence waiting to happen.

SBE had to be seen, most doctors felt, as the lowest priority fatal disease we have, during a total war situation : sorry, about your dead son or daughter , deal with it.

It didn't help - to be brutally frank - that RF and SBE mostly inflicted the working class ethnic minorities , far beneath the average American doctor's social standing in the 1940s : those who were about to die as a result of this decision were no one they knew.

But it was two members of this group, a Negro and a Jew in fact , that Dawson chose to be the first in the world to receive the life-saving antibiotic.

Some how, I can't help feeling that the thumb of his injecting hand was raised in a silent gesture to the NAS : up yours !

I believe that Dawson deliberately sought to rescue the least of the these , with help from the least of these, to make a point ( a parable in actions) : any Cause that would choose to save the least of these ----during a total global war --- was a Cause worth joining and worth dying for.

By early 1944 he had convinced the Allied governments.

The Allies were now making big press out of flying penicillin into neutral nations to saving dying children.

This was all to make Dawson's original point to the half of the world's nations still sitting out the so called "The Good War"/ " The Ultimate Battle between Good and Evil" .

Wartime penicillin, made by humble mold and given to the smallest and the poorest, was the best possible proof that the Allied Cause was just and humanitarian oriented and well worth joining and dying for.....

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wartime penicillin : patient-oriented or patent-oriented ?

MH Dawson
Martin Henry Dawson was Systemic Penicillin's earliest and biggest true believer. He ardently and publicly advocated producing 'second rate' penicillin for 'second rate' patients.

He didn't want to wait till systemic penicillin had been perfected, purified, synthesized, analyzed, patented, censored and marketed. Dr Dawson didn't want to wait till the war was long over before lives - on the battlefield and off - could start being saved. His only invention was moral : giving up his own life to fight for  patient-oriented, humanitarian, wartime penicillin.

He wanted penicillin , as it was at it point of development in September 1940, to go work right now, 24/7/365 saving patients.

He wanted penicillin's profit levels to be low enough so as to be cheap enough for all to afford and he wanted "second rate" penicillin to be abundant enough so that everyone, everywhere , from 1A soldier to 4F civilian, could have it.

To put it in terms from American organized medicine's internal political battle of the 1930s and early 1940s, Dawson promoted Social penicillin over War penicillin : humanitarian penicillin over penicillin as a weapon of war.

There has been much rubbish about penicillin patents written by historians , when really all there is to say is in that old saying " all roads lead to Rome" .

Just as there are many, many roads to Rome (but only one Rome), there are many alternative ways to grow, purify, test and apply natural penicillin - probably even alternatives ways to synthesize natural penicillin economically (when - and if - Man does that as well as Mold,  we will let you know.)

Almost anybody involved in the long drawn out saga of wartime penicillin who wanted to, could have had a patent on something or other.

Not particularly unique patents though --  hence not particularly valuable patents.

The big, unique, truly valuable patent - the 'Rome' patent - evaded its key searchers : Oxford University, Merck Pharmaceuticals and the American OSRD.

You couldn't patent natural penicillin, as it was in the Public Domain because the pencilliums' patent on it had run out hundreds of millions of years earlier.

So the scam was to create a 99.9% similar but ever so slightly different synthetic 'analog' ,(a so called "me too" drug) that would hopefully lead to penicillin being made much cheaper and much easier made than Man-Harnessing-Microbes could do.

The unconscious assumption, as we see now with 75 years of 20/20 hindsight, is that Man could inevitably make things cheaper in big chemical factories, than Nature could do it in its tiny biological factories.

But I digress.

It was safe to assume that sympathetic 1940s era patent examiners and judges would find this "me too" analog a truly new and patentable marvel, Man's wondrous powers for all to behold.

Then all who wanted the cheapest, easiest, penicillin would have to pay your steep licensing fees because you had a truly unique invention.

Actually I don't think the parties involved were only looking at short term patent profits but rather on much bigger, long term, "moral capital" gains for their firm, institution or university.

Lilly pharmaceuticals set them an example with insulin.

Lilly didn't hold the key original patent as the University of Toronto and Connaught Labs held that, but all the elites in the Medical and Big Pharma worlds knew the key work was actually done by Lilly and that Lilly seemed to consistently produce the best, safest insulin.

This profitable 'lead' in insulin research Lilly still holds, more 90 years later.

By force of myths and lies ( including doctoring photos in the Stalinist manner) , Oxford University and the entire Thames Valley is regarded as a biological Silicon Valley.

It has become a extremely wealthy and important part of the British economy, despite the fact that during World War Two, Oxford actually bet the farm on synthetic chemical, not biological,  penicillin and had also earlier ignored the pioneering work done in Britain on recombinant DNA !

But the artful myth that Oxford has weaved by focusing on the early labours to produce biological penicillin and ignoring the later, longer and bigger attempts to produce synthetic penicillin , has given it the moral capital to claim it led in producing wartime biological penicillin.

And they have been dining out on the myth ever since, because lazy historians and journalists let them.

In America, the 'penicillin myth' is actually much truer.

Pfizer is correctly credited with betting its all on biological penicillin while everyone else focussed on synthetic penicillin.

It won : producing 80% of all the penicillin that landed on D-Day.

Merck, the lead firm on synthetic penicillin, is widely derided for betting all on repeated failed attempts to make synthetic penicillin and in so missing the boat entirely on biological penicillin.

Columbia University - via its professor Martin Henry Dawson - could have claimed some of the life-saving glory of biological penicillin, but chose to focus on killing and death instead : prouder by far of its role in the Manhattan Project's fire bombing of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it ignored its role in the other Manhattan project .

The myth of wartime penicillin has been told many times but the real story - far more dramatic than the one hither to told to date - has never emerged......

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Dawson Does a Banting" : the impolite Canadian doctors who fought , and I do mean FOUGHT, to bring us life-saving penicillin and insulin

Canadians have a reputation for being excessive polite and for not being aggressive , pushing, forward, loud and emotional.

And the other hand.

There is the old joke about "going to a peaceful American boxing match and suddenly a Canadian hockey game broke out...."

Still it is quite well known that Banting never really discovered or invented anything new with insulin.

Instead, he "merely" pushed, yelled and screamed until the various threads of insulin research gathered, sometimes years before, by many better but less emotionally involved researchers the world over quickly became something you could inject into dying diabetic patients.

And he kept on kicking and screaming to ensure insulin was not just something only the rich and dying could afford.

He got not just the Nobel Prize, but almost all the permanent fame for insulin, over a half dozen more scientifically useful members of his own team, (let alone all the other worthy insulin scientists) because of his yelling and screaming , not because of his scientific skills.

Sometimes even the normally obtuse Nobel Committee knew enough to credit yelling and screaming over "science"  and this was one of those times.

Alexander Fleming  nearly killed penicillin in the first 14 years of its existence by telling all interested researchers that penicillin would never work as a life-saving injectable medication and might just work as a topical antiseptic cream, but only if it was synthesized by the chemists.

Florey did think that penicillin might save lives, but he was never one for any sort of clinical work , with real life human patients --- he preferred to polish penicillin research forever and ever, and felt real life saving with penicillin would only happen when it had been synthesized by the chemists.

Dawson was Life-Saving Penicillin's first and best champion 

Dawson loved Penicillin just as she was and five weeks after first meeting her, was trying to save lives with injected natural impure penicillin and kept doing so despite his own terminal disease , until his death five years later.

On six occasions over three years, he kick started the world's mass production of natural penicillin  by acting impolitely and unprofessionally (at least in the eyes of the ultra dignified medical establishment of the 1940s).

Dawson even 'stole' government issue penicillin and encouraged corporation leaders to bend  the rules, to ensure that cheap, abundant life-saving penicillin would be readily available during WWII , not finally made available for all, at high prices, sometime during the end of the Korean War ....

Duncan BC's forgotten wartime PENICILLIN pioneer, Donald MacRae

Duncan's Donald MacRae
The June 29th 1945 issue of the Canadian Army wartime newspaper, The Maple Leaf, records a Vancouver interview with a medic , Private Donald MacRae of Duncan BC , recounting his 1943 Italian experience making battlefield penicillin and saving lives.

It was just something humanitarians of all nations were required to do, in the decade and a half before Big Pharma was forced by Doctor Mom to finally start making commercial penicillin.

How KP duty helped save lives

What caught my eye in this little known story is that this particular group of penicillin-makers found the penicillium fungi grew penicillin best in the water into which potatoes had been left overnight. 

(MacRae's story rings true in all its other technical detils, right down to his group obtaining the penicillium spores from Egypt . Robert Pulvertaft's hospital-made penicillin operation in Cairo is very well documented and Pulvertaft gave his methods and his spores out freely, even to doctors from hostile neutral nations, if it would help save lives.)

Duncan honor Donald Macrae ?
Time, perhaps long overdue, for the City of  Duncan to thank Donald MacRae for this wartime life-saving.

I can add a little personal experience to the subject of Canadian Army issue potatoes, the peeling of, Sir !

 I spent a hot summer's day in a cool backroom once, doing Canadian Army KP duty, peeling potatoes and cleaning other vegetables and quite preferred it to running through the dusty sand of CFB Aldershot with a C2 light machine gun.

I was 5 foot ten and a half, 105 pounds ( with my clothes off I looked a bit like a Japanese POW) --- so naturally I always got put at the long end of a forced march arc, carrying a heavy C2 , while guys much more physically built than me got the short trip with a lighter C1 rifle.

Infantry intelligence (or lack of) -  you gotta got to love it !

I would be delighted to know if MacRae meant that the Canadian potatoes, probably from PEI and points East and shipped out in barrels, were first put in water overnight to remove remnants of Canadian dirt.

 Or was it the case that the Army's potatoes were generally peeled the night before the day of their cooking and that once peeled en masse, are quickly buried in buckets of water to prevent oxidation and discoloring until they were cooked ?

The water that peeled potatoes are held in are rich in a carbon source (starch) and are a well-known, well-used and welcome food to the fungi that make illicit beer. It would tend to retain trace amounts of minerals from the soil the potatoes were grown in.

 It would prove to be a 'complex medium'  (aka "we aren't sure what is in it") as the biologists call it and generally complex mediums did better growing penicillin than did the chemically pure "defined" growing formulas the chemists offered up.

But dirty potatoes left uncut in water overnight also leach out a little starch and other plant chemicals as well as giving lots of earth minerals. Filtered for solids, it too might be a good starting base for growing penicillin along with a bit of glucose sugar and milk sugar.

MacRae, who before the war had been a first aid man in remote logging camps, said it wasn't till March 1944 that the Canadian Army in Italy got enough commercial penicillin to cease making illicit life-saving penicillin (so it could now return to making illicit soul-saving beer instead ?)

March 1944 was the first month that then tiny soda pop supplier, Pfizer,  starting producing billions and billions of units of natural penicillin in a scaled up version of MacRae's effort  --- thanks to the advice and urgings of another Canadian penicillin pioneer , Nova Scotian born and raised Martin Henry Dawson.

Dawson was, in fact, the first person to ever inject penicillin into a patient, October 16th 1940 --- using penicillin his tiny team had grown themselves.

His team's secret ingredient ? A much loved local favourite, Jack Frost Dark (brown sugar) ....

Sunday, November 18, 2012

By 1945, Martin Henry Dawson's 1940 war aim had become OUR war aim too

Baby, dank Harry Lime, werden nicht neeeding Teddy

In September 1940 , at the height of the Battle of Britain, war hero Martin Henry Dawson decided against rejoining the Canadian Army to help fight Hitler.

He would fight Hitler instead by saving the lives of the very people that Hitler (and a lot of Dawson's medical colleagues) judged to be "lives unworthy of life" --- particularly in wartime.

In five short weeks, he grew and then injected penicillin into two working class youths, a Negro and a Jew , both dying of invariably fatal SBE.

 In many eyes, they were judged to be the 4Fs of the 4Fs, and definitely not a priority for life-saving during a Total War.

But Dawson instinctively felt that this was something that would definitely separate the Allies from the Axis , proving that the Allies believed in saving all lives - in particular even the smallest and the weakest, "the least of these", as it were.

The Allied government-scientific-military-commercial establishment disagreed, saving penicillin only for the 1As of the 1As, the frontline combat soldiers away from the killing zone due to a non-fatal dose of the clap they had picked up.

They banned the use of penicillin to save SBEs , sentencing them to a certain death.

Dawson, himself dying from a terminal disease, defied the authorities and stole some government-issued penicillin to give to the SBEs , later getting secret supplies from a sympathetic CEO at a Big Pharma corporation.

His misdeeds inspired others, the story broke, Doctor Mom sided with Dawson's ideas and the males in the establishment reluctantly fell in line.

But very soon they saw the virtue in Dawson's ideas, and warplanes were soon flying about, dropping not bombs but penicillin for dying children in both Allied countries and in Neutral nations.

Penicillin-the-lifesaver-of-all-civilian-lives had become a very public weapon in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the world for the Allied cause.

So much so, in fact, that by 1949 erstwhile 'citizen of an Allied nation' Harry Lime was judged one of fiction's all time villains mostly because he had dared to water down the penicillin intended for dying children.  Dying Axis children.

It is this viewpoint, only 4 years after the war, that I thinks allows us to claim "The Third Man" as one of the first postmodern films.

Dawson was four years dead by that point, but I think he would have be proud to think how far his war aims had become our war aims.....

Saturday, November 17, 2012

For Howard Florey's mausoleum of an institute, penicillin's therapeutic value was incidental to putting paying bums on seats

Howard Florey's discovery that impure natural penicillin could cure experimentally induced infections in mice was incidental to his number one concern : getting enough paying guests in his mausoleum of an institute, to pay its annual heating bills.

And also accidental , in the sense that Chain only poured all of the penicillin hitherto made by Chain' own methods into two healthy mice in March 1940, out of spite.

Florey had just told him the day earlier, during a very heated argument, that Norman Heatley would be making the crude penicillin from now on and by Heatley's method.

Chain was determined to establish his (or any) penicillin was in fact very non-toxic , though he should have put his brew into infected mice as he then would have really made his mark in history for sure.

But, Chain's spite at least jumped the gun on whatever decade Florey was originally planning to interrupt his precious personal research long enough to test penicillin on infected lab animals. (If that was even ever to come about in the original project -- mice cost money.)

He had at least forced Florey to put penicillin into some infected mice (the next stage in the process) or risk forever losing a claim to be the first to ever do it in history ----- and Florey liked nothing better than getting the glory of doing something first, even if his minions had to do all the hard work forever afterwards.

Much to Florey's surprise, the mice lived !

Florey - to his dying day - hated clinicians and clinical work : hated patients in fact

Now Florey was almost forced to try it on humans in an attempt to save their lives ---- which he did , almost exactly twelve months after the first mouse experiments  ----------never one to rush into clinical, live-saving, work was our Dr Florey,MD.....

How doctors rationalize "uncomfortable" successes : natural penicillin and others

Vaccines, Salvarsan, natural penicillin
Obviously, injecting live germs into someone's bloodstream can be potentially very dangerous.

But if done right (injecting only a small number of bacteria, and using bacteria in a very weakened state) it leads to a powerful immune response.

And that prevents that person from catching the actual disease when the really large numbers of fully virulent bacteria drop by for a visit.

No mid-19th century doctor liked the thought of injecting hostile bacteria into a person's personal, private, bloodstream.

This was because the Modernist Era was also very much an aristocratic era, one that earnestly believed that one's precious genetic inheritance and the family's 'good name' was contained within the bloodstream.

However, because vaccination worked and saved lives, they had to accept it as a given but still find a way to rationalize its existence into a place in their Modernist mental universe.

They did so, I argue, by claiming the vaccine "merely" stimulated the human body's latent immune system, that marvelous marvel that God and/or Evolution had given to Man and Man alone.

All glory then to Man and precious little glory to those deadly bacteria in the vaccine.

When toxic dangerous Salvarsan came along , a compound of arsenic poison injected into straight into the bloodstream but able to cure syphilis , doctors had to accept its success.

But again, they still had to fit the idea of injecting of deadly chemicals into humans,  somewhere in their Modernist mental universe.

It wasn't too hard : the drug was totally man-made, the invention of chemistry (then the Queen of the Sciences) --- in fact, invented by German chemists when German chemists were near the top of the intellectual food chain.

Again : all glory to man !

That made Salvarsan all right, and no one asked if the Salvarsan was free of dangerous chemical byproducts or anything probing like that : it was made in a chemical factory and that was all right, then.

(They'd all seen the medical journal ads with photos of gleaming white tile walls and grave men in white labcoats standing about and no one asked if this matched the reality of real chemistry labs and real chemistry plants. Watching real drugs being made back then was rather like watching real sausages being made : not for the faint of heart.)

So in 1941, doctors received the news that Sulfa drugs were being made in instantly converted paint factories with aplomb but balked at the idea of using natural penicillin, made in hospital labs.

Now recall Paul Ehrlich's justification for using toxic Salvarsan, which by extension applies to potentially dangerous vaccines as well.

He said it had registered a positive value on his Chemo-Therapeutic Index , which measured the minimum effective dose needed for a cure, versus the maximum dose tolerated by the patient before the drug killed them as well as  - or instead of - the germ.

Penicillin is virtually unique in having no meaningful amount of toxicity ; it is practically more toxic to inject sterile water into the blood than it is to inject free acid penicillin into it.

Penicillin, the safest drug in the world, should be have been the easiest-ever medication for doctors to accept for injection purposes.

In fact it was one they opposed using - almost to a man - for 15 long, lost,  years.

Why ?

Natural penicillin's biggest problem was that it was made by lowly basement slime - and by women

Hospital labs filled with young women, with high school diplomas, handling milk bottles of  smellymold (for God's Sake !) , growing it like a crop, like down on the farm ; so rural, so old fashioned, so Victorian and so very yesterday.

Natural penicillin only became acceptable to most male doctors in early 1944, when popular magazines showed it being 'manufactured' in huge gleaming stainless steel tanks many stories high.

 'Manufactured' in factories that looked like small oil refineries, with lots of knobs, dials and grave men (men - thank God !) standing about in white lab coats.

I use scare quotes on the manufactured because behind those opaque metal walls, it was still the incredibly tiny, invisible, fungus factories that were doing the real chemical heavy lifting, not Man-the-Chemist.

Penicillin was a molecule that all the world's best chemists, working in tandem, with unlimited funds, had failed to synthesize , but the tiny weak fungus could do it in their sleep.

The fungus could do it as easy as they could make beer.

 And that is just what Jim Duhig and the fungus did in Brisbane in the Fall of 1943, making penicillin as easily as one makes homemade beer.

He then injected it straight into his patients as is, totally unprocessed any further.

 And it worked - using technology cruder than what Fleming had in 1928, 15 years earlier. It saved Duhig's patients from certain death.

It was a job so easy that Duhig said any general hospital with a lab could do it,  just using a technician.

He didn't say the lab tech would probably be a young girl with a high school diploma but you got his drift.

And you caught his contempt for his fellow Aussie scientist , Howard Florey.

Florey's 1941 paper on producing penicillin had made it seem an extremely difficult activity, somewhere between between rocket science and brain surgery, with a good doze of elaborate Heath Robinson and Rube Goldberg technology thrown in.

(Florey, who tended to put efforts to re-burnish his family's tarnished name even above aiding the war effort and above saving the lives of other doctors' dying patients, deliberately tried to scare off competitors by this method on many occasions.)

Nevertheless, those huge gleaming steel tanks made producing natural penicillin a sort of honorary chemical activity, a sort of pseudo human-synthesized drug and made a lot of Modernist doctors a lot more comfortable about using it systemically.

But after 1945 and their failure to 'make' penicillin, I think it is fair to say that modernity and chemistry started a slow sad decline into
the back pages of life....

Medicine's all dominant "anthropocentricity", before the unexpected triumph of NATURAL penicillin

The world's best loved, most important medication lay "hidden in plain sight" for 15 wasted years because of medicine's unconscious anthropocentric biases.

Only when Dr Martin Henry Dawson came upon slime-produced penicillin fresh from his explorations of "The Triumphs of the Weak" among oral commensal Strep bacteria, did a doctor see no problems of using impure natural products of a weak species (fungus) in the blood stream of that most superior species known as (Man).

The ideology of Modernity, all powerful from about the 1860s to the 1960s , basically denied the existence of overwhelming Acts of God and of Natural Catastrophes.

Nature and Reality was but a neutral Backdrop to a stage where Man - for good and for bad - was the only actor.

Injecting tiny amounts of weakened live or  very dead (dangerous) germs into the human blood stream was perfectly acceptable because it merely stimulated that most marvelous work of Man : the human immune system.

Injecting  (highly toxic) chemicals like arsenic-based Salvarsan into the human blood stream was also perfectly acceptable, because this medication that fought VD was totally man-made, a marvel of Man's intellect.

But injecting a non toxic, highly effective, highly selective anti bacterial like natural penicillin into the human blood stream to save lives was unacceptable, for 15 wasted years.

Why ?

I venture it was because all its marvels were the work of the smallest, weakest, "stupidest" beings on Earth - it was as odious to 1930s western culture as the idea of crediting negroes with intellects equal to that of whites.

Dawson's investigations of the "Survival of the Weakest" among the oral commensal Strep, how they 'twisted their shapes" constantly to evade the all powerful human immune system , made him see Life's "weakest' beings in a new light.

The rest is history, or rather, the rest is the dawning of the new Era of Post Modernity and Global Commensality.....

Friday, November 16, 2012

1945 : it was the best of times and the worst of times for the Modern Age

In 1945, the Allied forces of Modernity were celebrated by contemporary (1945) academic opinion for turning back the anti modern efforts of the Nazis and the Axis.

But today's academic opinion also credits 1945 as the beginning of the new  Post Modern Age ( in effect signalling the start of the decline of Modernity.)

So which is it ?

It is almost as if Modernity was marched out front and centre , given lots of medals and many heartfelt votes of thanks and then told " you're fired."

Almost exactly what happened to Winston Churchill, that archetypal Modern, in 1945 in point of fact.

The Modern Age, that heady mixture of science,technology and nationalism that some also call the second industrial revolution,
began in the 1840s and was still powerful until at least the late 1960s but was in its heyday between the 1870s and the 1940s.

WWII was its only totally 'modern' war - it shared wars like WWI and Vietnam with pre and post modernity values.

And it totally, totally, lost that war -  at least on its own terms - to Mother Nature, to Reality, to life outside the cloistered laboratory.

The three memes that signal the shift from Modernity to Post Modernity...

The two words, memes really, always attached to the idea that 1945 mark a definite shift from Modernity to Post Modernity are Auschwitz and Hiroshima : I wish to add a third, Penicillin, in particular the unexpected (Plan B) success of natural penicillin.

The revenge killing of six million Jews marked a signal failure in Darwinian/eugenic biology, a Plan B for the failure of Germany's Plan A : to quickly conquer the weak species Russia and then to starve 30 million of its citizens to death so as to be able to fill their empty but fertile farms with new German settlers.

Hiroshima' death of an entire city by fire was a Plan B to the Allies' failure of their original Plan A, targeting only a city's key factories by precision bombing using Norden bombsights and Newtonian physics ( aka ballastics).

Natural penicillin, Martin Henry Dawson's contribution to the war, was also a last minute Plan B, because the Allied's original Plan A was to let patented, totally synthesised, Sulfa win the side war against bacteria - failing that , to let the chemists synthesise totally artificial, patentable, analogs of natural penicillin. But Daltonian chemistry failed the test and like the other two, never recovered.....

Seventy Five years later, has Death and Il-Health finally allowed a post-Modernist look at WWII to receive a fair hearing ?

Does Hamburg '43 still sizzle ?
All the grownup men who made the decisions to send tens of thousands of teenage boys off to die on German city bombing runs have long since gone to their rewards.

But the teenager bomber crew members still alive today seem resolute to go on defending the decisions of people like Bomber Harris, if only in order to preserve their own role in the bombing as something history and their grandchildren will still judge as honourable and worthy.

But every week more fall silent , due to death or il-health and one can hope a person can begin to ask probing questions without powerful media publishers and loud political senators baying for one's hide.

In Canada ,in 1982 and 1992, major controversies broke out over histories that questioned the received version of the roles of WWII Canadian war ace Billy Bishop and of Canada's bombing efforts over German cities, such as Hamburg in 1943.

 These protests were led in 1982 by WWI veterans in their eighties and in 1992 by WWII veterans in their seventies and eighties.

Now very few civilian children are left anywhere in the world who can remember anything of WWI firsthand.

Soon protest over the Allied actions at Hamburg will have to be led by a handful of surviving veterans of the raid in their frail nineties.

Eight years worth of 75th anniversaries of WWII...

The 75th anniversaries of the Munich Agreement , of Kristallnacht and of all the tense months leading up to WWII are coming up in a few months and a lot of modernist histories will be newly published, basically ringing variations on a theme that has been playing steadily since September 1945.

But I think it it is long past due time that a post Modernist take on both the least contested and the most controversial events of WWII
receive some publishing space.

I plan to publish some myself  in the years between September 2013 and September 2020 , as the 75th anniversary of WWII events slowly unfolds over the next 8 years.......

For Alexander Fleming's business firm, discovery of penicillin was incidental, as well as accidental

Penicillin the life-saving antibiotic ( Penicillin-the-systemic) was more of a threat than an opportunity to Alexander Fleming's main activity, which was making money from dodgy vaccines not making new science , which is why he always preferred to promote penicillin (weakly) as an antiseptic and (strongly) as an aid to vaccine production.

He did consciously (briefly) study penicillin as a possible systemic life saver and threat to replace his profitable vaccine business, but I argue that subconsciously, his heart really wasn't into a through attempt to make penicillin work as a systemic.

Fleming hardly had a personal lab , because he was hardly ever there : spending his days running a large medical business , just as his other brothers did.

His brothers' eye glass business is more a model to his behavior than the Lives of the Saints, despite the best efforts of the Jim-Savile loving British Establishment to turn Fleming into a saint.

Fleming's saving grace was that he carefully saved and stored his accidental penicillin visitor (as well as investigating it to a certain extent and published that work) giving it out freely to all who asked.

Because some who asked for his unique fungus, had more of a heart of the dying and for systemic medicines than Fleming and they brought it into general use as the world's best known, best loved, medication - ever.

If his attitude had been more like the evil (I use the word carefully) penicillin czar Dr Richards in the USA, penicillin would have died on the vine : so we still have a lot to thank him for....