T h e P a s s a i c H e r a l d - N e w s : J u l y 2 0 , 1 9 6 4
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Rutgers is celebrating streptomycin's twentieth anniversary, as well it should in view of the drug's benefits to mankind and to the university, which built its world-famed Institute of Microbiology with the help of income from the antibiotic.
This is really streptomycin's twenty-first birthday. It was in August 1943 that Dr. Albert Schatz of Passaic, one of the graduate students working for Dr. Selman Waksman at Rutgers, found a usable germ-killer produced by the soil organisms under investigation. Drugs deadly to germs had been found before in the course of Dr. Waksman's investigations but they were also dangerous to the patient.
The discovery was announced publicly the following year. However, little could be said for it except that it was promising. At the time there was one antibiotic known to the public. It was penicillin, which worked wonders. Penicillin was still so new that, the contemporary Americana recounts, "an amount of penicillin sufficient to treat a serious infection costs approximately $100." That was only 20 years ago.
After, the advent of streptomycin, many other valuable antibiotics were found. The change they and other new drugs have made in the treatment of illness is awesome. Many older persons whose memories of the era before the wonder drugs are sharp continue to think of antibiotics as miraculous.
Dr. Waksman, who is retired, concludes a summary of the history of streptomycin with a note of caution, from which the following self-explanatory excerpt is taken:
". . . as with every other revolutionary discovery, new problems have arisen as a result of the introduction of antibiotics. Among these are the social and economic problems that have resulted from an increase in the average life span of man. New public health problems have arisen from the practical control of many infectious diseases . . . The reduced natural resistance in the human and animal body as a result of the elimination of the infectious organisms also has dangerous potentialities."
A price, it seems, must be exacted for the progress we make.