Local MP pays tribute to Alexander Fleming’s brave new world of antibiotics

May 12, 2009 at 2:12 pm Leave a comment

alexanderfleming
A former Cabinet minister treated the House to an in-depth biography of scientist Alexander Fleming last night in honour of the 80th anniversary of his discovery of penicillin.

Des Browne, who is MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, had secured the adjournment debate.

“It is 80 years and one day precisely since Alexander Fleming’s research paper On the antibacterial action of cultures of a Penicillium was submitted for publication in The British Journal of Experimental Pathology,” he told the House.

Mr Browne said that while Fleming discovered penicillin in September 1928, when he returned from a six-week holiday and observed the classic clearing or lysis of the bacterial colonies around the contaminating mould, it would not be until the mid-1940s that it had been developed for use on human patients.

“By 1943, Fleming was able to use penicillin successfully to treat a girl with streptococcal meningitis; the rapid cure of an almost moribund patient led him to bring penicillin to the notice of the Government,” Mr Browne said.

“That led to the setting up of the Penicillin Committee and the production of penicillin on an industrial scale, especially in the United States.

“Fleming was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1943, knighted in 1944, and shared the 1945 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine with Florey and Chain.

“In 1945, Fleming was elected the first president of the new Society for General Microbiology.”

Mr Browne warned that that research into new antibiotics was vital.

“If we are to maintain and expand our ability to control disease, there is a need for continued research on the fundamental biology of pathogens and their interactions with the host, and on the development of new antibiotics,” he said.

“We could persuade the pharmaceutical industry back to the task by re-examining some of the commercial and regulatory caveats, and develop other mechanisms for disease control such as bacteriophage therapy.

“The legacy of Fleming and others was the golden age of antibiotic discovery, and all the countless benefits that it brought.

“The possibility of a “post-antibiotic age”, brought about by widespread antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria, is scary. In the words of Roy Sleator, writing in the February edition of Microbiology Today, “the bugs are fighting back! Moreover, the super-bugs…appear to be winning.””

For the governement Dawn Primarolo, Minister of State at the Department of Health, said Mr Browne “and his constituents are of course rightly proud of the fact that Alexander Fleming is one of their own, and my right hon. Friend is right to celebrate this landmark anniversary.”

Ms Primarolo said Fleming’s work has “profoundly shaped” the development of medical science and treatment.

“The ability to treat infections and to provide antibiotic prophylaxis in surgery has unlocked other key developments in medical science,” she said.

“It has allowed huge advances in complex surgery, cancer therapy and transplantation, because, without those antibiotics, compromised and immuno-suppressed patients would quickly succumb to infections.

“The other striking fact about antibiotics is their unique status as a therapeutic agent.

“They are aimed at the bacteria not the patient, massively reducing the side effects that are associated with more aggressive drug treatments.

“We have also come to recognise, however, that the effectiveness of the current generation of antibiotics is finite and self-limiting.

“The emergence of so-called superbugs such as MRSA in the past two decades has showed the potential for damage that over-reliance on antibiotic medicine can cause. The issue demands vigilance and action across the medical community.”

Ms Primarolo said that pharmaceutical companies, “which have tended to cut back their antibiotic research programmes, have perhaps compounded the problem, creating some of the cycles that we now see.”

“We are playing our part as a Government,” she said.

“The Medical Research Council supports a substantial body of infection research and is currently spending £72 million a year on it.

“The United Kingdom clinical research collaboration has invested £16.5 million in its translational infection research initiative. That will help to boost research capacity and infrastructure and establish new career development and training programmes for scientists and researchers.”

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