Year of Invention: 1948
What Is It? The first artificially created antibiotic capable of killing a wide va-
riety of fungi.
Who Invented It? Rachel Fuller Brown and Elizabeth Hazen (in Albany, New
The war against bacteria and viruses was slowly won during the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. However, the same was not true for fungal diseases. These maladies were actually on a rapid rise in the middle of the twentieth century as bacterial diseases were in decline.
Rachel Fuller Brown and Elizabeth Hazen created the first fungal killer that was gentle enough to not harm human patients. Nystatin, the commercial name of their invention, has saved literally millions of lives.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, medical sciences made a concentrated effort to create antibiotic germ killers. Their success created a new problem. Many common antibiotics killed the bacteria that controlled the spread of harmful fungi. Fungal diseases such as ringworm and moniliasis (a fungus-produced soreness of the mouth) rose sharply.
In the fall of 1948, Drs. Elizabeth Hazen and Rachel Brown accepted the mission of finding an effective antifungal agent. In concept it was a simple assignment. They would grow fungi and test them against various antibiotics. Any successful antibiotics would later be tested in laboratory animals. What made it hard was that there existed over 250,000 kinds of fungi and hundreds of potential antibiotics to test on each.
Fungi are plants that do not contain green matter (chlorophyll) and so cannot use photosynthesis to produce their own nutrients. Ranging from mushrooms to molds, most are harmless, but a number can cause serious illness, and a few are deadly.