Medicine through time

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Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich was a young scientist when he joined the research team of Robert Koch. He, along with another Scientist, Emi Behring, developed an interest in the antibodies produced by the human body.His studies of these led him to believe that a chemical substance could be produced to work alongside these antibodies, killing specific bacteria without harming the rest of the body.

This line of research led to Ehrlich opening his own research institute, to search for 'The Magic Bullet'. The 'Magic Bullet' was the name given to the much sought after dye or drug that would counter act the spread of infection.

His results were a limited success: he found dyes that attacked malaria and some sleeping sickness bugs. In 1906 the detection by Hoffman of the microbes that caused syphilis opened up a new line of research. Ehrlich's team tested over 600 chemical compounds, searching for one that would target and destroy the syphilis germ. In 1909, a new scientist joined his team. He was asked to retest all of the discarded chemicals that had previously been shown to fail. The 606th compound selected and destroyed the germ. Ehrlich rigorously tested the vaccine and in 1911 Salvarsan 606 was used for the first time on Humans.


Ehrlich's work with Behring led to a cure for Diphtheria, he also researched extensively into the field of chemotherapy, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1908.

The fight against infectious disease: pages within this unit

What is an Infectious Disease? A Glossary of Infectious Diseases, Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, Vaccination, The Development of Drugs, Paul Ehrlich, Gerhard Domagk, Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, The importance of Penicillin, Factors affecting the development of drugs and treatments.

Activities within the Unit

Glossary vocabulary test This activity checks your knowledge of infectious disease
Drag and Drop game Do you know who developed each form of medicine?
Breakthrough against Infectious Disease Use the information in this unit to answer a detailed question, then see how it compares with a suggested response. Ideal revision tool.

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