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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Paul Ehrlich’s life and achievements
- The Magic Bullet
- The legacy of Paul Ehrlich
KEY FACTS AND INFORMATION
Let’s know more about Paul Ehrlich and Magic Bullets
- Paul Ehrlich was a German-Jewish physician and scientist who found a cure for syphilis in 1909. He is also credited with numerous discoveries in medicine, in the fields of haematology, immunology, and antimicrobial chemotherapy. One of the breakthroughs in his career was his discovery of “magic bullets” which changed the practice of medicine and the development of treatment for various diseases. Because of his contributions to the field of immunology, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to him in 1908.
Paul Ehrlich’s Life and Achievements
- Paul Ehrlich completed his medical studies at the universities of Breslau, Strasbourg, Freiburg in Breisgau, and Leipzig.
- After he obtained his doctorate in 1882, he worked at the Charité in Berlin as an assistant medical director under Theodor Frerichs, the founder of experimental clinical medicine. There he focused on histology, haematology and colour chemistry.
- Afterwards, Paul Ehrlich travelled to Egypt and surrounding countries in the late 1880s, partly in order to cure his tuberculosis which he had contracted whilst working in the laboratory.
- After returning from his travels, he founded a small private practice and small laboratory in Berlin.
- Soon enough, Robert Koch invited him to join his Berlin Institute of Infectious Diseases.
- There in 1896, with the help of Koch, Ehrlich created the Institute for Serum Research and Testing targeted at Ehrlich’s specialisation and it was named after its founding director.
- It was during his almost twenty years of work at the Institute that Paul Ehrlich completed some of his most important discoveries and achievements.
- Ehrlich’s other academic achievements at this time included becoming an honorary professor of the University of Göttingen and becoming the director of the Georg Speyer Haus in Frankfurt, which was a private research foundation affiliated with his institute.
- Buttressed by his Institute and the infrastructure which supported his specialism, Ehrlich was able to reach incredible milestones in his field including discovering the first drug to be targeted against a specific pathogen. Salvarsan became a treatment for syphilis, which in the early 1900s was one of the most lethal and infectious diseases in Europe.
- In 1914, Ehrlich was a signatory to the infamous and controversial Manifesto of the Ninety-Three, which was essentially a proclamation endorsed by 93 prominent German scientists, scholars and artists in defence of Germany’s World War I politics and militarism.
- His achievements in haematology, the branch of medicine which concerns itself with diseases related to blood, include the development of a method for staining tissue which essentially enabled scientists to distinguish between different types of blood cells.
- This had an enormous impact on the field, as following this discovery blood diseases began to be codified and classified, and work on their cures and treatments could begin.
- More than 80 universities and medical societies from Chicago to Rio de Janeiro awarded him with memberships and honorary doctorates because of his great contributions in the field of medicine.
- Not long after, on the 17th August 1915, Ehrlich suffered a heart attack and died three days later in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe. He was buried at the Old Jewish Cemetery in Frankfurt.
- Paul Ehrlich’s research on colour chemistry (dyes) paved the way for his findings on chemotherapy.
- In 1885 Ehrlich released his monograph “The Need of the Organism for Oxygen” in which he introduced the new technology of in vivo staining.
- Within this work, Ehrlich came to the conviction which was to guide all of his future research and achievements: that quite literally all life processes can be traced back to physical chemistry processes occurring within the cell.
- During his research, Ehrlich had come across methylene blue, which he deduced was particularly suitable for staining bacteria.
- He had the idea to use it therapeutically, especially to treat malaria.
- After this venture was fairly successful, Ehrlich began to search for an agent similar to methylene blue but without the side effects that it carried.
- In 1909, after years of research and experimenting with a guinea pig disease, Paul Ehrlich together with Sahachiro Hata finally discovered that Compound 606, which was named Salvarsan and also called Arsphenamine, was able to curb and decrease the effects of syphilis without significant side effects on humans.
- By 1910 the medicine was already being marketed, especially given the widespread need for a cure to this very common disease.
The Magic Bullet
- In 1900, Paul Ehrlich invented the concept ‘magic bullet’ when he argued that if a compound could be made which would selectively target an organism that is causing the disease, then an accompanying toxin for that organism could be delivered together with the agent of selectivity.
- In medicine, the ‘magic bullet’ is known as a drug that kills a microbe in a human without harming the healthy cells i.e. the human.
- He first discovered “magic bullets” as antibodies, these are part of the cells called “side chains” which break off when a cell is threatened by foreign bodies like toxins, bacteria, or virus (Side Chain Theory).
- In other words, Ehrlich discovered that it was possible to attack just a disease, not the human carrying it, and thus treat very serious illnesses such as syphilis.
- This concept of the so-called magic bullet was founded on Ehrlich’s studies of methylene blue and years of experiments, first with animals and then humans.
The Legacy of Paul Ehrlich
- Paul Ehrlich left behind both academic legacies and concrete ones.
- His discovery of Salvarsan, the very first ‘magic bullet’ and cure for syphilis, formed the foundation of future studies that developed practices of chemotherapy.
- Salvarsan also formed the basis of the principal treatments of syphilis up until the arrival of penicillin and other antibiotics which were created in the middle of the 20th century.
- In 1896 Ehrlich founded the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Berlin, which was moved first to Frankfurt in 1899 and then finally moved to Hesse, near Frankfurt, in 1987.
- The institute began as a platform for Ehrlich’s research and has since grown and been home to several leading global scientists and researchers in immunology.
- Today, it is not only a German research institution but also a medical regulatory body.
- As a federal agency, it is the German Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines, and it is subordinate to the Federal Ministry of Health.
- The Paul Ehrlich Institute is also internationally renowned and is a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for quality assurance of in vitro diagnostic devices and blood health-related products.