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Ehrlich, Paul

found medical discovered dyes

[ayr likh] (1854–1915) German medical scientist: pioneer of chemotherapy, haematology and immunology.

Ehrlich was born in eastern Germany, the son of an eccentric Jewish innkeeper and his talented wife. Undistinguished at school (where he hated examinations) he did well enough to enter university to study medicine, and qualified at Leipzig in 1878. With difficulty, partly because he was Jewish, he got a hospital post in Berlin. He spent his career there and in Frankfurt (from 1897), except for a year in Egypt using its dry air as a cure for his tuberculosis; at the time it was probably the best treatment.

While Ehrlich was a student the aniline dyes had recently been discovered and his mother’s cousin Carl Weigert (1845–1904) had used them for microscopic staining. Ehrlich worked with him and was impressed by the way in which some dyes would stain selectively. The study of this linked his interest in chemistry with his medical work and was to form the basis of all his later research. He found how to stain and classify white blood cells, discovered the mast cells later found to be important in allergy and worked with on antitoxins. His work on antibodies largely began modern immunology. It led him to think that, although the search for vaccines against malaria and syphilis had failed, it might be possible to attack the parasites causing these diseases in another way, since they could be selectively stained. He also knew that when an animal died from lead poisoning the lead was found concentrated in certain tissues. He hoped that he could find a synthetic chemical which would bind on to and injure the parasites. He was encouraged by his discovery that the dye Trypan Red was fairly effective against trypanosomes (the pathogens causing trypanosomiasis) in mice, although he also discovered that drug resistance soon developed. Both discoveries were important.

From 1905 he and his assistants began trials using compounds with molecules not unlike dyes but containing arsenic, as a part of his programme to find a ‘magic bullet’ that could locate and destroy the invading pathogenic cells. Their organoarsenical compound No. 606 (which had failed against trypanosomes) was eventually found by them in 1909 to be effective against Treponema pallidum , the bacterium that causes syphilis, and it was soon used in patients as ‘Salvarsan’. The principles used by Ehrlich came to guide this new approach (chemotherapy) to disease, in which a compound is sought that will seek out and destroy the disease organisms with only minor damage to the patient. In the event, it was over 20 years later before achieved the next major success.

Ehrlich inspired loyalty in some of his co-workers and high exasperation in others. He was dictatorial and impatient and appeared to live largely on cigars and mineral water. He shared a Nobel Prize in 1908 for his work on immunity, which is only a part of his contribution to medical science.

Eijkman, Christiaan [next] [back] Egyptian Writing Materials and Publishing - MEDIUM AND MESSAGE., MULTIPLE COPIES., DATE OF COMPOSITION., TITLES OF WORKS., SOURCES

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