World’s Super Scientists – Paul Ehrlich

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Alchemist of the Rainbow and discoverer of “Magic Bulet” – Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich Scientist (1854, to 1915) ‘The Father of Chemotherapy’ revolutionalised curative medicine.

Definition of chemotherapy: Treatment of infections and diseases by means of chemical substances or drugs.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist lived in Silesia in Germany during his boyhood. Later he took Doctorate of Medicine. Right from his childhood he was attracted by colours – he was absorbed in the sight at the rainbow; he had an obsession with colours.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist understood the potential uses of aniline dyes derived from coal tar. Germans captured the world market in those days in the manufacture of organic chemical compounds.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist Made Experiments on Staining Procedures :

Paul Ehrlich Scientist Said every tissue of the body, or a bacterium could be stained with dyes.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist worked with Karl Weigert, on whose name a stain is existing.

Robert Koch discovered tubercle bacilli in 1882; Ehrlich stained them with methylene blue, a stain. Koch was pleased with this attempt; never had the bacilli been revealed so clearly.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist was invited to work in the New Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, where he had opportunity to work with Dr. Emil von Behring who discovered a method of preparing diphtheria antitoxin.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist increased the potency and efficacy of the antitoxin and in fact, saved it from extinction.
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About with tuberculosis forced Ehrlich to interrupt his work and go to Egypt for a cure. On return to Berlin in 1889, the disease had been permanently arrested.

In 1889 Paul Ehrlich Scientist was appointed in a Research Institute, Royal Prussian Institute for Experimental Therapy.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist was dependent on Havanas (a brand of cigars). Sigmund Freud was his contemporary in science as well as in smoking! Cigars and mineral water – these two were his constant companions, they were his meat and drink.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist pockets were full of coloured pencils – red, blue, green, the tools of his experimental research, to draw the findings.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist used to sit amidst heaps of journals and scientific papers. He used to mix solutions of different colours in test tubes in his experiments; he was called ‘the virtuoso of the test tube’.

Chemicals and Diseases

Every cell and tissue in the body, according to Ehrlich, has got chemical loves and hates.

Basis of his research :  Some chemical compounds could be hostile to germs in the body but how to introduce them? The dose has to be determined. The sterilizing substance must be harmful to the parasite/germ but harmless to the tissues.

Atoxyl, a compound containing arsenic has been tried in sleeping sickness. On pursuing the genealogy of atoxyl, i.e., fractionating it, a compound was obtained named 606, viz., the 606th fraction.

In 1905 it came to be known that the notorious disease, syphilis was caused by a corkscrew -shaped spirochaete, stained by a dye containing silver and observed under dark ground illumination.

Syphilis was taking a heavy toll of human life. Dr. Hata, a Japanese, working with Ehrlich found that the preparation 606 could halt the process/progress of syphilis in rabbits.

Arsenic is a deadly poison. Even if an infinitesimal portion is introduced in the body, where is the guarantee that it will not accumulate to a fatal concentration later?People were impatient because patients of syphilis were dying. What if a little risk is taken in fighting such an adversary since animal experiments proved its efficacy.

It had to be injected slowly into a vein. The “Magic Bullet” against syphilis has arrived, at last. Demands for the supply of the drug began increasing. The drug was named Salvarsan meaning in Latin ‘the drug which saves health’.
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This was the first service of organic chemistry to medical science, the beginning of chemotherapy.

Later neo-salvarsan, number 914 was introduced; it was less toxic, more easy to manufacture, more easily dissolvable in body tissues.

Ehrlich, the king in the realm of applied chemistry won the Nobel Prize.

Arsenic, Bismuth and Mercury products were weapons against syphilis in early 20th century. A moment with Venus,

lifetime with Mercury’ used to be a stinging pun on the poor syphilis patient. Later on and now, Penicillin has come to stay as the drug of choice.

In 1915 diabetes devitalized Ehrlich; there was no treatment except severe restrictions (in diet, life style, etc.)

One substance called sulphanilic acid was taken note of as the ancestor of the genealogy of sulphonamides which were curing pneumonias prior to Second World War.

Paul Ehrlich Scientist died in 1915. This versatile genius was praised as an advocate of ‘chemical thinking’ in medicine and biology – the highest accolade for him.