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Howard Florey

Howard FloreyAKA Howard Walter Florey

Born: 24-Sep-1898
Birthplace: Malvern, Australia
Died: 21-Feb-1968
Location of death: Oxford, England
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist

Nationality: Australia
Executive summary: Isolated penicillin

In 1928, Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered a mold which developed on some germ culture plates. His finding remained a mere scientific curiosity for more than a decade, until experimental pathologist and bacteriologist Howard Florey, working with his colleague Ernst B. Chain and several assistants at Oxford, isolated the active substance of penicillin. After many frustrating months of work, with minimal funding and inadequate equipment, they produced an effective and safe antibacterial agent from raw mold, and subsequently designed methods of mass production to bring their medicine to the public.

For their work, Florey, Fleming, and Chain shared the 1944 Nobel Prize, but Florey always said, modestly, that a "terrible amount of luck" had been involved, and insisted that everyone on his team deserved credit. Penicillin was the first naturally occurring antibiotic to be discovered. In a time when even a minor injury could, if it became infected, lead to amputation of a limb or even death, when diseases like pneumonia, syphilis, gonorrhea, diphtheria, and scarlet fever were virtually untreatable, penicillin was considered miraculous. It is now prescribed about a quarter-billion times annually, worldwide. So many lives have been saved with penicillin and subsequent antibiotics that late in his life Florey felt he was partially to blame for the population explosion, and he became an advocate for zero population growth. He also studied tissue inflammation and secretion of mucous membranes, isolated and purified lysozyme, and other naturally occurring antibacterial substances.

Florey's father was a bootmaker in Adelaide, having moved to Australia from England. As a boy, Florey was a brilliant student, except for mathematics, which always flummoxed him. He met Ethel, the woman who would be his first wife, when they were both studying at the University of Adelaide. She attended medical school against her parents' wishes, and overcame gender prejudice, partial deafness, and decades of ill health to become a surgeon and scientist. She was part of her husband's penicillin research team at Oxford University, but interrupted her career to raise their children.

After his wife's death in 1966, the 69-year-old Florey married his lab assistant, Dr. Margaret Jennings. She too was a respected scientist, author of dozens of papers, had also been part of her husband's penicillin research team, and had worked with him for more than three decades. They were married only seven months, though, before Howard Florey died. He was never a wealthy man, as the patenting of penicillin would have violated medical ethics of the 1940s.

He was knighted in 1944 and granted a life peerage in 1965, as Baron Florey of Adelaide and Marston. In addition, a suburb of Canberra, Australia is named in his honor, and his portrait appeared for many years on the Australian $50 dollar bill.

Father: Joseph Florey (bootmaker, b. 5-Jan-1857, d. 18-Sep-1918 heart attack)
Mother: Bertha Mary Wadham Florey (m. 1889, d. 27-Nov-1936 cancer)
Sister: Charlotta Florey (half-sister, b. 1880 to Joseph Florey and Charlotte Ames)
Sister: Anne Florey (half-sister, b. 1882 to Joseph Florey and Charlotte Ames)
Sister: Hilda Florey Gardner (pathologist, b. 1891)
Sister: Viletta Florey (b. 1892)
Wife: Mary Ethel Hayter Reed Florey (scientist, b. 1-Oct-1900, m. 19-Oct-1926, d. 10-Oct-1966)
Daughter: Paquita Mary Joanna Florey (b. 26-Sep-1929)
Son: Charles du Vé Florey (b. 11-Sep-1934)
Wife: Margaret Augusta Fremantle Jennings Florey (scientist, b. 2-Dec-1904, m. Jun-1967, d. 14-Nov-1994)

    High School: St Peters Collegiate School, Adelaide, Australia (1915)
    University: BA Surgery, University of Adelaide (1921)
    University: MA Physiology, Oxford University (1924)
    Scholar: Cambridge University (1924-25)
    University: PhD, Cambridge University (1927)
    Teacher: Special Pathology, Cambridge University (1927-31)
    Teacher: Pathology, University of Sheffield (1931-35)
    Professor: Pathology, Oxford University (1935-62)
    Administrator: Oxford University (1962-65)
    Administrator: Australian National University (1965-68)

    Rhodes Scholarship 1921
    Knight of the British Empire 1944
    Nobel Prize for Medicine 1945 (with Alexander Fleming and Ernst B. Chain)
    French Legion of Honor 1946
    Royal Medal 1951
    Copley Medal 1957
    Royal Society President (1960-65)
    Order of Merit 1965
    Life Peerage 1965 as Baron Florey of Adelaide and Marston
    Portrait on Australian Currency $50

Author of books:
Lectures on General Pathology (1954, medicine)
Antibiotics: A Survey of Penicillin, Streptomycin, and Other Antimicrobial Substances from Fungi, Actinomycetes, Bacteria and Plants (1949, medicine, 2 vols.)


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