Monday, July 30, 2007

Streptomycin - Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian

Streptomycin wasn't available anywhere until 1946, having been discovered by an American soil biologist, Selman Waksman, in 1943. The drug was very expensive and the British government were unable to import much of it into the country. I believe the bulk amount was 50 kg. As a result, there was only enough to treat a few patients with tuberculosis so the Medical Research Council devised a fair trial whereby some patients received streptomycin and bed-rest whilst another group received bed-rest only. Bed-rest being the standard treatment for TB. One hundred and seven patients were enrolled into the trial - 55 received streptomycin (the treated group) and 52 received bed-rest only (the control group). The trial began in January 1947. This means that officially, nobody in Britain received the antibiotic before that date. Since there was a black market for streptomycin, some wealthy individuals may have been able to import it from America, but not those in a government-funded sanatorium. You can read more about the context in which the trial was set up and conducted at:

You can read the BMJ paper, published in 1948, which gave the results of the trial.
One of the things I'll be investigating is whether Craig-y-nos patients were enrolled on the first and subsequent trials but anyone who received streptomycin in 1947 was almost certainly on a clinical trial.

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