Monday, November 11, 2013

PURE LOVE : Henry Dawson's Manhattan Project

The very first colleague that Henry Dawson brushed up against in his rush to save SBE patients being silently abandoned in the rush to replace social (4F) medicine with war (1A) medicine was Karl Meyer - a key member of Dawson's tiny four person penicillin team !

Meyer had pushed working with penicillin as his way to seek some (private) vengeance upon fellow German Jewish biochemist Ernst Chain who Meyer felt had misrepresented Meyer's pioneering work on the structure of lysozyme.

Meyer had private information that Chain had tried for two years to synthesize penicillin with no luck.

But how hard could it be ? After all it is a natural biological molecule no bigger than that of quinine. (Chemist joke.)

Meyer, no more hubris-blind that any other chemist in the golden age of chemistry, felt he could easily do the job in a few months and still keep up his regular research work on other topics.

So he wanted the first clinical tests to take place early in the new year (1941) and take place with his own 100% pure synthetic penicillin.

Dawson, a lapsed Calvinist on a catholic mission,  dismissed all his professions concerns over injecting anything less than 100% pure penicillin into humans, which had held up anyone using penicillin's amazing  life saving abilities for 12 solid years.

'Mixed caste' penicillin was more than good enough for Dawson, if it meant the difference between life or death.

So the very first patient given antibiotic penicillin , a young man named Charlie Aronson , was plucked from his seemingly inevitable endocarditis death with a little crude penicillin that was about eight to ten units of strength per milligram.

To put it in terms an ad man for Ivory Soap might understand, that meant it was .56 of one percent penicillin  and 99 and 44 one hundred percent  ?????

To Howard Florey, it was 99.44% pure dangerous dirty impurities.

To me ,perhaps secretly to Dawson as well , because the penicillin amount itself was far far too small to affect the bacteria on the heart valves, the only way Dawson's action could have saved Charlie's life was down to the morale-boosting effect Dawson's obvious care and concern had upon Charlie 's own bodily defences.

So to me, that very first penicillin was .56% penicillin and 99.44% pure love....

(and a big hat tip to Ronnie Milsap and Eddie Rabbitt  for their audio contributions to the writing of this piece.)

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