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Carlos J Finlay and Alexander Fleming

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Medicine has been improving over the years, treatments and procedures became safer and more efficient, medications began to be mass produced and of course more effective and accessible to people. These advances would have not been possible without those scientists that through history had make significant discoveries and inventions which changed the course of medicine and saved the life of many people, including animals. Two of these remarkable scientists were Carlos J Finlay and Alexander Fleming. Even though their discoveries contributed to the same cause and both were recognized for what they did, their background history, findings and the impact they made are focus on different things.

Carlos J Finlay was native from Camaguey Cuba born in a wealthy family, son of a Scottish-French parents. Edward Finlay his father was a well-known physician in Cuba who fought at the side of Simon Bolivar. His family owned a coffee plantation in Alquizar where he spent his early years. After receiving some education at home, Finlay was sent to study in France where he could benefit and take advantage from high quality learning opportunities; unfortunately due to the contraction of diseases such as Cholera between others and political disputes he was forced to come back to Cuba several times. Due that the University of Havana would not recognize his European academic credits, Finlay matriculated in the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia where he finally graduated in medicine. In the other hand Alexander Fleming was natal from Scotland descendent of a farmer family of scarce resources. Unlike Finlay, Alexander’s education experience at the begging was not the most prestigious or well equipped for an educational environment since he assisted to a modest moorland school where twelve students of all ages were taught in a single classroom. He then continues his education at Darvel School for which he had to walk an eight-mile trip every school day, after finishing he received a two- year scholarship to Kilmarnock Academy before going to London, where he studied in the Royal Polytechnic Institution. In 1903 influenced by his elder brother Tom, he opted to follow the path of medicine to become a physician by enrolling at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School where he accomplished an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) with distinction in 1906.

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As mentioned before the discoveries of this two made a huge contribution and impact in the world of medicine. Carlos J Finlay main contribution to the world of science was about the explanation of the transmission of a disease which was affecting many people at that time best known as the Yellow fever. He dedicated himself to investigate the etiology of yellow fever, based on the considerable experience accumulated in Cuba in the characterization and diagnosis of this disease, some of whose symptoms were originally described by Cuban doctors. On behalf of the Academy of Sciences, he actively collaborated with the first yellow fever research commission sent to Cuba by the US government in 1879. Finlay was the first one to theorize that a mosquito was a carrier of the organism causing the Yellow fever. Due to his discovery, safety measures were created to diminish the impact of the illness and a vaccination to create immunity to the disease. On the other side Alexander Fleming work on wound disease and lysozyme, an antibacterial found in tears and saliva assured him a spot in the history of bacteriology. Yet, it was his revelation of penicillin which began the antibiotic revolution and sealed his lasting reputation. Fleming’s discovery of penicillin was by mistake, he had left a pile of cultures of staphylococci on a bench in his laboratory, when he came back, Fleming perceived that one of them was contaminated with a fungus, and that the colonies of staphylococci around the fungus had been destroyed. He grew the mold in a culture and discovered that it produced a substance that killed several disease-causing bacteria and after being called for months the “mold juice”, he named the substance penicillin. This antibiotic helped to change the life of many people by been strong enough to cure respiratory, sexual transmission, streptococci and staphylococci infections, also saved the life of many soldiers that at that time were at war as mentioned in the (Time Great People of the 20th Century, page139) “World War II hastened research; money and materials speeded the perfection and manufacture of the “wonder drug”, and thousands of lives were saved”. This war contributed to the mass production and medication improvement of this drug.

Even thought these two were different in their background history and their discoveries and the impact they made were focused in different things it was not contrast after all. They were both recognized worldwide for their discoveries and theories. Carlos J Finlay was a biennial scientific prize sponsored by the Government of Cuba and awarded since 1980 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and was awarded the Mary Kingsley Medal of the Institute of Tropical Medicine. In the same way Alexander Fleming was well know worldwide for his big discovery of the Penicillin which granted him a position as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he was awarded the Hunterian Professorship by the Royal College of Surgeons of England and elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. They were both fascinated by science and medicine. Both contributions made a huge change in the world of medicine and saved the life of many people around the world.

Carlos J Finlay and Alexander Fleming made huge contributions which change the course of medicine of years to come. Even though they had their differences of nationality and the branch of medicine of which they were making their investigations about, they both shared one important thing which was their love and passion for science and the desire to improve medical procedures so that medications could become more effective and safe more life. This these contributions gave an end to the spread od deadly diseases and marked the beginning of a new era in the world of medicine.

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