Paul Ehrlich was a German scientist whose influence extended across diverse fields, including immunology, hematology and chemotherapy. Ehrlich discovered the first practical treatment for syphilis, for which he shared the 1908 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Russian biologist Élie Metchnikoff.
Early Life and Education:
Born in 1854 into an affluent Jewish family, Paul Ehrlich developed an interest in the process of staining cells with chemical dyes as a youth. He studied medicine at the Universities of Strasbourg, Breslau, Freiburg and Leipzig. Ehrlich earned his medical degree from the University of Leipzig in 1878.
Contributions and Achievements:
During his experimentation with cellular staining, Ehrlich noticed that chemical reactions took place in cells and that these reactions were the cause of cellular processes. He concluded that chemical agents could cure diseased cells and fight infectious agents, an idea that radically changed therapeutics and medical diagnostics. Ehrlich coined the term “chemotherapy”. He also detected a particular chemical reaction in the urine of typhoid patients and made important contributions for the treatment of various eye diseases.
Ehrlich was appointed a head physician at Charité Hospital, Berlin, where he came up with an exclusive staining method to recognize the tuberculosis bacillus. Ehrlich also differentiated the various kinds of blood cells of the body, and by doing so, became one of the founders of hematology. Ehrlich discovered the application of methylene blue for curing nervous disorders.
He published about 37 scientific papers between 1879 and 1885. Perhaps his most influential work, “Das Sauerstoff-Bedürfniss des Organismus” (The Requirement of the Organism for Oxygen), published in 1885, maintained that oxygen consumption changes with various types of tissue and that these changes form a measure of the intensity of vital cell processes.
Later Life and Death:
Paul Ehrlich shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Russian biologist Élie Metchnikoff in 1908. He died of a stroke in Hesse, Germany, on August 20, 1915. Ehrlich was 61 years old.