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Paul Ehrlich

Health and the People>Germ Theory>Paul Ehrlich

What do we know about Paul Ehrlich?

  • Dates: 1854 – 1915
  • Place of Birth: Germany
  • Background & Education: Charité medical school
  • Career: Joined Koch’s team at Berlin Institute of Infectious Diseases. In 1906 he became the director of the Georg Speyer House (later renamed Paul Ehrlich Institute in his honour, 1947). In 1908, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to immunology
  • Famous Publications: Various – research on creation of synthetic antibodies, Salvarsan 606 & Syphilis

Contribution to Medicine

  • Antibodies were identified as a natural defence mechanism of the body against germs. It was known that antibodies only attacked specific microbes – so they were nicknamed magic bullets. In 1889, Paul Ehrlich set out to find the chemical that could act as synthetic antibodies.
  • First, Ehrlich discovered dyes that could kill the malaria and sleeping sickness germs.
  • In 1905 the bacteria that causes the sexually transmitted disease syphilis was identified.
  • Ehrlich and his team decided to search for an arsenic compound that was a magic bullet for syphilis. They hoped it would target the bacteria without poisoning the rest of the body. Over 600 compounds were tried, but none seemed to work.
  • In 1909, Sahachiro Hata joined the team. He rechecked the results and saw compound number 606 actually appeared to work. It was first used on a human in 1911 under the trade name Salvarsan 606.

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