Register to take part in a study today

‘Alzheimer and Fleming – Observations in Time’

Artist: Gerard M Burns

Commissioned by Glasgow Memory Clinic

31st January 2018

Full Narrative

It is probably unlikely that German doctor Alois Alzheimer, who was born in Bavaria on the 14th June 1864, would have imagined when he reported a sole case of a subject suffering from dementia in 1906 that he was witness to a sea of change in medicine. The condition he described, subsequently called Alzheimer’s disease, would become the major cause of dementia globally in the 20th and 21st centuries. He stood at a point in history when the main cause of dementia, syphilis, was soon to be eradicated by another major discovery to be made by Scottish doctor Alexander Fleming, born in Ayrshire on the 6th August 1881.

Fleming’s discovery of Penicillin in 1928 changed medicine and has saved millions of lives. To the best of our knowledge Alzheimer and Fleming never met. Their individual astute observations altered the face of medicine and continue to provide a salutary lesson to clinicians and scientists today. The importance of original observations, accurately described – even a solitary case. It is also a reminder of how medicine changes and how it will continue to change and evolve with time and each new advance and discovery. Had Fleming’s discovery come earlier Alzheimer’s life could perhaps have been saved as sadly it is thought his early death in Poland, on the 19th December 1915, was a consequence of an earlier Streptococcal Infection – eminently treatable with penicillin. Penicillin completely revolutionised medicine and surgery.

Fleming lived to see the mass production and the enormous benefits of his discovery; one being the prevention of gas gangrene in infected wounds. He was honoured in his own lifetime and passed away on the 11th March 1955, in London, due to a heart attack. The widespread availability of penicillin has brought and continues to bring enormous benefits to humans, but we now live in an era of penicillin resistance. This is a constant warning of the need for and importance of ongoing research into microorganisms and antibiotics.  Fleming’s discovery bought us time, but we cannot be complacent and new treatments for resistant bacteria and viruses are urgently needed. While symptomatic treatments for Alzheimer’s became available in the late 1990’s a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is still being sought today.

At no point in human history have more scientists and researchers focussed their minds and efforts on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease – this in itself is a cause for great optimism. Millions of humans across the world are now engaged in research. The original timeless observations of Alzheimer and Fleming acted as catalysts that have supported the great movement and effort towards enlightenment through the research process and a much deeper understanding of the world we live in.

(click image to enlarge)