Paul Ehrlich, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1908

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Paul Ehrlich, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1908

Birthplace: Strehlen, Lower Silesia, German Kingdom of Prussia
Death: Died in Bad Homburg, Hesse, Germany
Cause of death: a second stroke
Place of Burial: Juedischer Friedhof on Rat Beil Straße, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Immediate Family:

Son of Ismar Ehrlich and Rosa Ehrlich
Husband of Hedwig Ehrlich
Father of Stefanie Ehrlich and Marianne Olga Landau
Brother of Bertha Sachs; Anna Knoche; Elise Lobethal and Clara Redlich

Occupation: Hematologist and Immunologist, Physician, Bacteriologist
Managed by: Yuval Peter Aronade
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Paul Ehrlich, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1908

Paul Ehrlich פאול ארליך

Paul Ehrlich (14 March 1854 – 20 August 1915) was a German Jewish scientist in the fields of hematology, immunology, and chemotherapy, and Nobel laureate. He is noted for curing syphilis and for his research in autoimmunity, calling it "horror autotoxicus". He coined the term chemotherapy and popularized the concept of a magic bullet.

Paul Ehrlich was born into a Jewish family in Strehlen, in the Prussian Province of Silesia (now in Poland). As a schoolboy and student of medicine he was interested in staining microscopic tissue substances.

In his dissertation at the University of Leipzig, he picked up the topic again ("Contributions to the Theory and Practice of Histological Staining", Beiträge zur Theorie und Praxis der histologischen Färbung). He married Hedwig Pinkus (then aged 19) in 1883. The couple had two daughters named Stephanie and Marianne. After his clinical education and habilitation ("The Need of Organisms for Oxygen ", Das Sauerstoffbedürfnis des Organismus) at the Charité in Berlin in 1886 he received a call from Robert Koch to join the Institute for Infectious Diseases in Berlin (1891).

Ehrlich spent two years in Egypt, recovering from tuberculosis. Thereafter he worked with his friend Emil Adolf von Behring on the development of the diphtheria serum.

These works inspired Ehrlich's famous side-chain theory (Seitenkettentheorie) from 1897. This theory explained the effects of serum and enabled measurement of the amount of antigen. In 1896 Ehrlich became the director of the newly founded Institute of Serum Research and Examination (Institut für Serumforschung und Serumprüfung) in Steglitz (Berlin). In 1899 the institute was moved to Frankfurt (Main) and extended into the Royal Institute of Experimental Therapy (Institut für experimentelle Therapie). Here Ehrlich researched chemotherapy and infectious diseases. In 1904 Ehrlich became honorary professor of the University of Göttingen.

Ehrlich received the Nobel Prize for Medicine together with Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov in 1908. In 1906 he discovered the structural formula of atoxyl, a chemical compound which had been shown to be able to treat sleeping sickness. Following this discovery, he tried to create a less toxic version of the medicament. In 1909 he and his student Sahachiro Hata developed Salvarsan, a treatment effective against syphilis.

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Nobel Museum: Biography of Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich, pharmaceutical achiever

Paul Ehrlich's publications (ordered chronologically, as full-text PDF)

Film Annotations Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet -------------------- Nobel of Medicine

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Paul Ehrlich, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1908's Timeline

March 14, 1854
Strehlen, Lower Silesia, German Kingdom of Prussia
Age 28
August 19, 1884
Age 30
Berlin, Germany
January 23, 1886
Age 31
Berlin, Germany
Age 53

In 1890 Robert Koch, Director of the newly established Institute for Infectious Diseases, appointed Ehrlich as one of his assistants and Ehrlich then began the immunological studies with which his name will always be associated.

At the end of 1896 an Institute for the control of therapeutic sera was established at Steglitz in Berlin and Ehrlich was appointed its Director. Here he did further important work on immunology, especially on haemolysins. He also showed that the toxin-antitoxin reaction is, as chemical reactions are, accelerated by heat and retarded by cold and that the content of antitoxin in antitoxic sera varied so much for various reasons that it was necessary to establish a standard by which their antitoxin content could be exactly measured. This he accomplished with von Behring's antidiphtheritic serum and thus made it possible to standardize this serum in units related to a fixed and invariable standard. The methods of doing this that Ehrlich then established formed the basis of all future standardization of sera. This work and his other immunological studies led Ehrlich to formulate his famous side-chain theory of immunity.

In 1897 Ehrlich was appointed Public Health Officer at Frankfurt-am-Main and when, in 1899, the Royal Institute of Experimental Therapy was established at Frankfurt, Ehrlich became its Director. He also became Director of the Georg Speyerhaus, which was founded by Frau Franziska Speyer and was built next-door to Ehrlich's Institute. These appointments marked the beginning of the third phase of Ehrlich's many and varied researches. He now devoted himself to chemotherapy, basing his work on the idea, which had been implicit in his doctorate thesis written when he was a young man, that the chemical constitution of drugs used must be studied in relation to their mode of action and their affinity for the cells of the organisms against which they were directed. His aim was, as he put it, to find chemical substances which have special affinities for pathogenic organisms, to which they would go, as antitoxins go to the toxins to which they are specifically related, and would be, as Ehrlich expressed it, «magic bullets» which would go straight to the organisms at which they were aimed.

To achieve this, Ehrlich tested, with the help of his assistants, hundreds of chemical substances selected from the even larger number of these that he had collected. He studied, among other subjects, the treatment of trypanosomiasis and other protozoal diseases and produced trypan red, which was, as his Japanese assistant Shiga showed, effective against trypanosomes. He also established, with A. Bertheim, the correct structural formula of atoxyl, the efficiency of which against certain experimental trypanosomiases was known. This work opened a way of obtaining numerous new organic compounds with trivalent arsenic which Ehrlich tested.

At this time, the spirochaete that causes syphilis was discovered by Schaudinn and Hoffmann in Berlin, and Ehrlich decided to seek a drug that would be effective especially against this spirochaete. Among the arsenical drugs already tested for other purposes was one, the 606th of the series tested, which had been set aside in 1907 as being ineffective. But when Ehrlich's former colleague Kitasato sent a pupil of his, named Hata, to work at Ehrlich's Institute, Ehrlich, learning that Hata had succeeded in infecting rabbits with syphilis, asked him to test this discarded drug on these rabbits. Hata did so and found that it was very effective.

When hundreds of experiments had repeatedly proved its efficacy against syphilis, Ehrlich announced it under the name «Salvarsan». Subsequently, further work on this subject was done and eventually it turned out that the 914th arsenical substance to which the name «Neosalvarsan» was given, was, although its curative effect was less, more easily manufactured and, being more soluble, became more easily administered. Ehrlich had, like so many other discoverers before him, to battle with much opposition before Salvarsan or Neosalvarsan were accepted for the treatment of human syphilis; but ultimately the practical experience prevailed and Ehrlich became famous as one of the main founders of chemotherapy.

Age 53
August 20, 1915
Age 61
Bad Homburg, Hesse, Germany
August 1915
Age 61
Frankfurt am Main, Germany