Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for Nystatin: Inventions by Women A-Z

Elizabeth Hazen (lft) (1885-1975)
Rachel Brown (rt) (1898-1980)

Itchy ears. The problem had plagued me for years it seemed. Fed up with with my family physician's inability to help me, I went to an eye, ear and nose doctor--the kind parents usually take their kids to. The doctor knew exactly what to do. He cleaned my ears and prescribed a fungicide called Nystatin. It took awhile, but slowly the itchiness disappeared. It felt like a miracle.

Fungal infections can be life-threatening to burn victims, organ transplant recipients, AIDS patients, and those undergoing chemotherapy, but less serious infections like athlete's foot, yeast infections, infant oral thrush and the itchy ear problem I had can be chronic. Nystatin is mostly used to treat fungal infections of the skin, mouth, vagina, esophagus, and intestinal tract. But it has also been used for non medical reasons, as in the prevention of mold spreading on valuable works of art. In that regard, you might say Nystatin has saved thousands (maybe millions) of dollars in art restoration. 

In 1950, Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown, while working for the Division of Laboratories and Research (New York State Department of Health) discovered Nystatin. It was the first effective antifungal medicine ever. 

Elizabeth Hazen's journey to becoming a microbiologist was long and arduous. Orphaned at the age of three, the odds were hardly in her favor. Women rarely entered the field of science in the early 1900s. Nevertheless, Elizabeth managed to attend a women's college in Mississippi. Proving herself capable, she earned a degree, and with a diploma in hand, she found a job teaching high school physics and biology. Later, she returned to school to obtain an advanced degree, but was discouraged from continuing by university authorities who thought her southern education was inadequate. Undaunted, Elizabeth forged ahead and earned a Ph.D. in microbiology, proving her background was indeed adequate.  

Rachel Brown's journey was less difficult in Massachusetts. She was the recipient of a high school scholarship early on and had the financial backing of a well-to-do local woman. While in college another woman, who happened to be the chair of the chemistry department, also mentored and greatly encouraged her. Like Elizabeth, Rachel taught school for awhile, then later returned to school where she earned a Ph.D in chemistry. 

Two journeys, as different as night and day, but two women in partnership, destined to discover an amazing drug.



The partnership began in the 1940s, when Elizabeth and Rachel began testing and analyzing hundreds of soil samples from around the world. First, Elizabeth would culture the organisms in the samples and test them against two significant fungi, Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans. If any tested positive, she would mail the sample to Rachel, who then tried to isolate the active agent in the culture. The process was tedious, as it was also important the agent not be toxic to animals. 



Finally, after much testing, one soil culture passed all of the tests with flying colors. (Ironically, the soil tested was not from some remote region across the world . . . but from a friend's home garden). 

Elizabeth and Rachel had just discovered the fungicide, Nystatin.



Sources:
http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/pharmaceuticals/preventing-and-treating-infectious-diseases/hazen-and-brown.aspx
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nystatin

Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl

28 comments:

  1. Now there is an invention we are all very glad was discovered. Amazing work by amazing women.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure thankful. I still use Nystatin if my ears have the slightest itch. Fungal infections can be nasty.

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  2. Hi Sharon .. such an amazing discovery .. and how they both reached that goal via very different routes ... Nystatin seems to have been used for lots of things ... especially that art restoration aspect .. fascinating .. cheers Hilary

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    1. I was surprised to find a non medical use, but it does make sense!

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  3. It's interesting how a DIScourager and ENcourager had the same effect on these women.

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    1. Isn't that neat? Despite coming from different walks of life, determination was key to Elizabeth's success especially, and in the end they had so much in common.

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  4. A very "releaving" discovery! Interesting how different their paths were, and wonderful that they both made it to where they wanted to go.
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
    I am Ensign B of Tremps' Troops
    with the A to Z Challenge

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    Replies
    1. Two incredible women for sure. So glad for their collaboration.
      Thanks for visiting, Barbara. Hope to see you again :)

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  5. This is a great theme!!! I'm a nurse (in my past working life) and let me tell you - there's nothing nastier than an unchecked fungal infection. When you see terrible skin conditions and horrible nail beds on folks in third world countries (or any country), blame a fungal infection. Most times, you'll be right!

    Now you've gone and done it...I'm following you. :-)

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    1. Thanks for your input, Cherdo (and following :). Nystatin felt like a miracle drug to me, and you've seen it work firsthand. I too noticed the skin conditions you mention, living in Malaysia for nine months. Some looked awful!

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  6. Most informative and information one should keep in mind.
    Yvonne.

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  7. That's so interesting about the application to art preservation.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, who would have guessed? There are probably other uses too.

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  8. I know a few who have taken that stuff. Great story behind the product. :)

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    1. Good to hear. Learning about Nystatin has been an eye opener. Thanks!

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  9. Yet again, another wonderful introduction to two very capable, intelligent women. The inspirational thing I take away from reading this, is everything we put our minds to is attainable. Thanks for sharing these amazing woman with us.

    Sent with smiles, Jenny, Pearson Report
    2015 A to Z Challenge Ambassador
    @PearsonReport

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    Replies
    1. Yes, very inspiring indeed. Thanks, Jenny.

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  10. What a fascinating post! My daughter who has a PhD in chemistry will be interested in it. I'll send her a link!

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    1. I hope she enjoys it. Those are tough fields, even today. (I used to edit Ph.D theses and research papers)

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  11. Women rule!! They not only helped millions of people with something quite annoying but have helped preserve priceless works of art. These are great women and it shows how much one can do if one perseveres.

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    1. Yay! I wish more girls knew they can accomplish much with their life.

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  12. What a great subject for you blog! I didn't know this about Nystatin, but now I do.

    I'll be reading more of this blog.

    www.passporttobrilliance.com
    www.creativecaravanclub.com

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Wendy. Be sure to check back :)

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  13. This post is so interesting. Hooray for Elizibeth and Rachel and hooray for Nystatin!

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  14. I had to use when restoring a pastel art piece that was over 100 years old. It was a real trick.

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  15. Thanks Sharon... amazing the active organism was found in a garden! And all hail to these determined women. I have a friend who restores art work, or curates work I think it's called. I'll ask her if she knows of this. I imagine she would.
    Have a lovely weekend!

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"Stay" is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary
(A.B. Alcott). Stay and visit awhile. Your comments mean a lot to me.

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