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Howard Walter Florey, Baron Florey OM, FRS (24 September 1898 – 21 February 1968) was an Australian pharmacologist and pathologist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Alexander Fleming for his role in the extraction of penicillin.

Biography

Born the youngest of five children in Adelaidemarker, South Australiamarker, Florey was educated at St Peter's College, Adelaide, where he was a brilliant student and junior sportsman. He studied medicine at the University of Adelaidemarker from 1917 to 1921. At the university he met Ethel Reed, another medical student, who became both his wife and his research colleague. A Rhodes Scholar, he continued his studies at Magdalen College, Oxfordmarker, receiving the degrees of BA and MA. In 1926 he was elected to a fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridgemarker, and a year later he received the degree of PhD from Cambridgemarker.

After periods in the United Statesmarker and at the University of Cambridgemarker, he was appointed to the Joseph Hunter Chair of Pathology at the University of Sheffield in 1931. In 1935 he returned to Oxford, as Professor of Pathology and Fellow of Lincoln Collegemarker, leading a team of researchers. In 1938, working with Ernst Boris Chain and Norman Heatley, he read Alexander Fleming's paper discussing the antibacterial effects of Penicillium notatum mould.

In 1941, they treated their first patient, Albert Alexander, who had been scratched by a rose thorn. His whole face, eyes, scalp were swollen, and he had an eye removed to relieve some of the pain. Within a day of given penicillin he started recovering. However they didn’t have enough penicillin to help him to full recovery. Unfortunately he had a relapse and died. Because of this awful experience, they changed their focus to children, who didn’t need such large quantities of penicillin.

His research team investigated the large-scale production of the mould and efficient extraction of the active ingredient, succeeding to the point where, by 1945, penicillin production was an industrial process for the Allies in World War II. However, Florey held that its discovery came only as scientific merit, and that the medicinal discovery was only a bonus:

Having been appointed a Knight Bachelor in 1944, Florey was made a life peer in 1965 as Baron Florey, of Adelaide in the Commonwealth of Australia and of Marston in the County of Oxford. This was a higher honour than the knighthood awarded to penicillin's discoverer, Sir Alexander Fleming, and recognised the monumental work Florey did in making penicillin available in sufficient quantities to save millions of lives in the war, despite the doubts of Fleming that this was feasible.

He was awarded the Lister Medal in 1945 for his contributions to surgical science. The corresponding Lister Oration, given at the Royal College of Surgeons of Englandmarker later that year, was titled "Use of Micro-organisms for Therapeutic Purposes".

Florey was elected president of the Royal Society in 1959.

In 1962, Florey became Provost of The Queen's College, Oxfordmarker. During his term as Provost, the college built a new accommodation block, named the Florey Building in his honour. The building was designed by the Britishmarker architect Sir James Stirling.

After the death of his wife Ethel, he married his long-time colleague and research assistant Dr. Margaret Jennings in 1967. Florey was Chancellor of the Australian National Universitymarker from 1965 to 1968. He died of a heart attack in 1968 and was honoured with a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, London.

He was also openly concerned about the population explosion resulting from improving healthcare, and was a staunch believer in contraception.

Legacy

Australian $50 note in circulation 1973-1995
Florey is regarded by the Australian scientific and medical community as probably its greatest scientist. Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister, said that "in terms of world well-being, Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia".

Florey's portrait appeared on the Australian $50 note for many years, and the suburb of Floreymarker in the national capital Canberramarker is named after him. The Howard Florey Institute, located at the University of Melbournemarker, and the largest lecture theatre in the University of Adelaidemarker's medical school are also named after him. In 2006, the federal government of Australia renamed the Australian Student Prize, given to outstanding high-school leavers, the "Lord Florey Student Prize", in recognition of Florey.

The Florey Unit of the Royal Berkshire Hospitalmarker, Reading, Berkshiremarker is named after him.

References



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