Harold Ridley was an ophthalmologist treating the eye injuries of British fighter pilots during World War II, when he noticed an odd similarity between those injuries. And what he learned when he looked closer changed how we treat cataracts today.
Even if you don’t enjoy lobster (and I don’t, particularly), more than perhaps any other food it’s synonymous with a certain kind of luxury. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, for a long time it was just the opposite.
I knew about the change, but not specifically why.
So much of the world changed, thanks to the period starting with the first World War to the 1950s. Men having short hair and no facial hair was due to the survivors of World War I – they’d learnt about mites and lice in the trenches. Elements of Santa Claus came from Krampus, but the colour – the red and white – is attributed to Coca-Cola ads in the late 1940s/early 1950s.
When penicillin was first used medically, in 1940, it was a time of austerity. While Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin in 1928, his world-changing observations had garnered hardly any notice, and it wasn’t until 1938 that another team of researchers finally began to isolate and test the active chemical ingredients in the world’s first antibiotic. By that time, World War II was raging, and medical manufacturing capacity that could be devoted to experimental treatments was in short supply.
Producing usable penicillin from Penicillium notatum mold was no easy feat, says PBS: “In spite of efforts to increase the yield from the mold cultures, it took 2,000 liters of mold culture fluid to obtain enough pure penicillin to treat a single case of sepsis in a person.”
Pencilin production couldn’t happen nearly fast enough to match rising demand. To make up the shortfall, writes Rebecca Kreston for her Body Horrors blog at Discover Magazine, researchers came up with a novel way to get the penicillin they needed: extracting and isolating it from patients’ urine.
40 – 99 % of the penicillin antibiotic is excreted in urine in its fully functional form about 4 hours after administration thanks to our kidneys! But doesn’t that mean that the dose was too high?
…But even today, some portion of the active ingredient from many drugs passes through our bodies unchanged. Instead of isolating and recycling them, though, we send them down the toilet and out into the world.
That part is why I sourced the Smithsonian article rather than the Discover one. While our ability to synthesize antibiotics has greatly improved, the impact to our water supply is rather scary.