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(March 14, 1854 - August 20, 1915)
Diphtheria is a horrible disease, often referred to as the "strangling angel," because of the suffocating membrane film that can form over the throat and tonsils. It's a highly infectious disease, typically spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Initial symptoms appear 2 to 5 days after infection and may include a sore throat, swollen glands, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, and fever. Some people may suffer only a mild reaction, but diphtheria may can be fatal for others. It is especially life-threatening to children. The complications can include toxic damage to the heart muscles (diphtheric myocarditis) and to the peripheral nerves (neuritis). Diphtheria is rare in developed nations, thanks to widespread vaccination programs, but continues to be a serious threat in developing nations.
The work conducted by Ehrlich's colleagues was revolutionary. Whereas weakened strains of bacteria had produced previous vaccines, Behring and Kitasato used the serum of immunized animals to produce their antitoxins. But, the process was slow and difficult. It took many weeks of painstaking work to produce the first dose used on Christmas Day 1891. If the serum was going to be of widespread value, a better means of production had to be found. Ehrlich took on the task. He first established strict methods to measure the content of the antitoxins - a methodology that would be used in all future standardizations of sera. He then turned his attention to producing a pharmaceutical grade serum in large quantities. He knew mice wouldn't work. Nor would rabbits or guinea pigs. So, thinking big, he began to use horses to produce the serum. His process was the turning point in moving from production of small quantities to mass production. He and his fellow scientists teamed with Hoechst, the German pharmaceutical company, to make the first commercially available antitoxin.
Ehrlich was a tireless worker and, by all accounts, a kind and modest man. Surprisingly, Tthough he suffered a bout of tuberculosis early in his career, he seemed to have little concern about the impact of smoking on his already beleaguered lungs. He was often seen with a box of cigars tucked tightly under his arm - and he smoked constantly, averaging 25 of the stout cigars each day.
Introduction by Tim Anderson
Table of ContentsIntroduction
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Key Experiment or Research
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
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Major Academic Papers
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Pharmaceutical Achievers article on Ehrlich's pursuit of "Magic Bullets" therapies:
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The Science Behind the Discovery
Baumler, Ernest. Paul Ehrlich: Scientist for Life. Holmes & Meier Pub., 1985.
Marquardt, Martha. Paul Ehrlich; (The Life of science library). Schuman, 1951.
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