Sir Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming

Darvel, East Ayrshire, Scotland
Death 11 Mar 1955 (aged 73)
London, City of London, Greater London, England
Burial London, City of London, Greater London, England
Plot The crypt (Cremated at Golders Green)
Memorial ID 6161 · View Source
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Nobel Prize Recipient. He is remembered for receiving the 1945 Nobel Prize for Medicine as he and his younger colleagues Howard Florey and Ernest Chain invented modern antibiotics. Their discovery of penicillin revolutionized medical science and saved millions of lives. Born seventh of eight children to a Scottish farmer, his country upbringing sharpened his ability at an early age for nature and observation. He began his education at Loudoun Moor, then a larger school at Darvel, and then enrolled in Kimarnock Academy in 1894. In 1895, at the age of fourteen, he went to London to live with an older brother and finished his basic education at Regent Street Polytechnic. In 1901 he began studying medicine at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School on a scholarship and from inherited money from an uncle. In 1908 he won the gold for being the head of his class at the University of London. He had plans to become a surgeon until he had a position in the laboratories of the Inoculation Department of the hospital where instructor, Sir Almroth Wright, led him to the field of bacteriology. Leaving his studies, he served with distinction during World War I in the Army Medical Corps with Sir Wright's research team attached to the British Expeditionary Force's General Hospital #13 at Boulogue-sur-Mer in Northern France. In November of 1921, he made his first major discovery when he found lysozyme, a bacteria-destroying enzyme found in tears and saliva. This explained how the body fights infections, yet lysozyme had no effect on the most-pathogenic bacteria. He was elected professor of the medical school in 1928. On September 3, 1928 while studying influenza, he found mold in a petri dish of Staphylococcus aureus, which had become contaminated with a fungus. The mold, later identified as Penicillium notatum, had slowed the growth of bacteria. He called the substance “mold juice” and later, “Penicillin.” In 1896 Ernest Duchesne, a French medical student, had done primary work proving certain molds killed bacteria, but the discovery did not advance until Fleming's discovery. As a lone researcher, Fleming humbly said “I did not invent penicillin. Nature did that. I only discovered it by accident.” He failed to stabilize and purify penicillin, yet he knew Penicillin had the potential to be a topical antiseptic as well as an injectable antibiotic. He published his findings in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology in 1929 and receiving little initial enthusiasm from the medical community. Ten years later as he was planning his retirement, Florey and Chain's contributions of stabilize and purify penicillin advanced Fleming's discovery to the drug's full potential. Without knowing the dosage needed or possible negative reactions, Penicillin was tested on the first human being in early January 1941. The development of antibiotics during World War II was critical as death from infections of battle wounds was common. Since Britain's pharmaceutical companies had been devastated by enemy bombardment during the war, Florey went to the United States in July 1941 for a few months establishing the British-American Penicillin Project and seeking mass production of the drug. At this point, a colleague from Fleming's early days at St. Mary's Medical Center, Sir Almroth Wright, issued a statement to the newspapers about his pioneer research on Penicillin. In 1943, a two-year-old American girl dying with an infection was given Penicillin and cured. In March of 1944 Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company started producing 7,000 gallons of Penicillin in an old building in Brooklyn, New York. Three months later on June 6, 1944, Allied soldiers carried penicillin on the D-Day invasion of the beaches at Normandy, France. In 1943, he was elected to the Royal society; in 1944, he was made Knight Bachelor by King George VI; and in 1945 the three scientists who had worked on Penicillin received the Nobel Prize. Starting in 1908, Fleming published numerous papers on bacteriology, immunology, and chemotherapy. In 1947 with the death of Sir Wright, he became the Director of Inoculation Department of St. Mary's Medical School, which later became the Wright-Fleming Institute. In 1948, he became emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of London and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Alfonso X the Wise. Since he was willing to give the press interviews, the press emphasized Fleming's role in the discovery of Penicillin, thus leaving the two younger scientists with little public recognition for their achievements. In time, he became England's spokesperson for medicine and science. He married twice, first to a nurse, Sarah Marion McElroy and as a widower, Dr. Amalia Koutsouri-Vourekas. He suddenly died of a coronary occlusion at home and his body was cremated. Although he did not live to see Penicillin being used as a staple in the medical community, he is recognized as one of the world's most well-known scientists. “Time Magazine” named Fleming one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.

Bio by: Linda Davis





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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 22 Aug 1999
  • Find a Grave Memorial 6161
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Sir Alexander Fleming (6 Aug 1881–11 Mar 1955), Find a Grave Memorial no. 6161, citing Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, City of London, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .