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(January 10, 1911 - January 6, 2004)
Born in England
Year of Discovery: 1940
Engineered Methods to Grow Penicillin, Crucial to Making Antibiotic Treatment Usable
Heatley joined the famous Florey research team in 1936 after receiving his PhD from Cambridge. Though a rather quiet individual, he would have a monumental impact on the development of penicillin. Heatley was the junior member of the research team but, without his contributions, it's unlikely they would have been successful. Heatley's first breakthrough was in figuring out how to remove the active penicillin from within the liquid produced by the mold culture. Once this was achieved, he faced the difficulty of producing sufficient quantities of penicillin to begin testing. Once again, Heatley used his ingenuity, utilizing every conceivable type of container from discarded glass bottles to ceramic bedpans to culture the penicillin mold. His efforts helped pave the way for the development of penicillin, credited with saving over 80 million lives.
Heatley was an insightful biochemist, whose quiet nature served him well in his collaboration with his more assertive colleagues. But, though soft-spoken, Florey and his team came to rely on Heatley's genius to solve the most complex issues. The team discovered that adding ether helped isolate the penicillin. But, it was Heatley who figured out how to then extract the active penicillin from the ether solution, by changing the pH. Heatley also directed the effort to produce sufficient quantities of penicillin to begin trials. He set up a makeshift production facility, in the midst of World War II, with few supplies readily available. When a glass manufacturer couldn't produce the culture vessels he needed, he remembered reading about the production of ceramics as a boy, and was convinced he could make a fired ceramic vessel work. He designed the vessel's dimensions and contacted a ceramics company in an English region known as The Potteries to produce them. Heatley even picked up the first batch of 174 himself, in a borrowed van, just two days before Christmas, 1940. This simple production facility produced enough penicillin to conduct the first human trials. Following their early success, Heatley accompanied Florey to the
Fleming, Florey, and Chain received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945 for the discovery of penicillin - there was no mention of the critical contributions that Heatley had made. But, in 1991, almost 50 years later,
Introduction by Tim Anderson
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