Fungus Among Us!

 
On November 23, 1898, American biochemist Rachel Fuller Brown was born. Most famously, she worked through research and production projects with microbiologist and bacteriologist Elizabeth Lee Hazen for the New York State Department of Health; Brown in Albany and Hazen in New York City.

Hazen was chosen to work on an antifungal medicine to offset the side effects of some antibiotics of the time. Antibiotic use in certain medical conditions often left patients vulnerable to fungal infections. Burn victims and organ transplant recipients are often at risk of fungal infections.

The Department assigned Brown to the project as Hazen’s chemistry arm. They tested and screened soil samples for useful microbial agents that they could use to produce a useful antifungal agent. They had a trusty assistant in the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS delivered Hazen’s test cultures in jars from her lab in New York City to Brown’s lab in Albany. They eventually found the right component in the garden soil of one of Hazen’s friends. They named the ingredient, nystatin for their New York State.

The E.R. Squibb Company ran clinical trials and marketed the product. Nystatin is used to treat many fungal infections of mouth, throat, digestive system, intestinal tract, and skin. These two scientists took no money for themselves. Instead, they split the royalties they received – half the proceeds were donated to the Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the other half went to the Brown-Hazen Fund that they used to provide scholarships for needy students, especially women, to pursue a science career.

Brown and Hazen each received the Squibb Award in Chemotherapy; the Rhoda Benham Award, Medical Mycological Society of the Americas; and the Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists.

Microbiologist and bacteriologist Elizabeth Lee Hazen (left) and biochemist Rachel Fuller Brown           [NY State Department of Health/Smithsonian Institution Archives]

Microbiologist and bacteriologist Elizabeth Lee Hazen (left) and biochemist Rachel Fuller Brown
[NY State Department of Health/Smithsonian Institution Archives]

 

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage

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