Christian Author: Nancy W. Boyer

Dr. Emil Adolf Behring: German Scientist -Developer of Modern Medications

Boyer Writes is paying tribute to a scientist that worked tirelessly to find cures that effect all of our lives today.  Dr. Emil Adolf Behring was up against difficulties of the times, as well as the patience of his medical superiors. Funds were limited to do his research.   Yet, year after year he stayed with it until he had the results and the honor of scientific development that changed the world.    Our hats off also to those who continue tirelessly today to find the cure for AIDS,  Alzheimer’s disease  and cancers of all types.

Because we are vaccinated as children and the diseases such as diphtheria are little known to most in the modern world,  it may be good to describe here something about this particular disease that these men of science helped eradicate.

A diphtheria skin lesion on the leg

Diphtheria is a highly contagious and life-threatening infection caused by bacteria. The infection most commonly attacks the mucus membranes associated with the breathing system (the tonsils, throat, and nose) and can also infect the skin. In addition, some types of the bacteria can cause damage to the heart, nerves, kidneys, and brain.

The vaccine for diphtheria is safe and is very effective at preventing the disease. A series of shots are given during childhood, then booster shots are required every ten years to keep the immunity strong.

Before vaccines and medications were available to prevent and treat the disease, nearly one out of ten people died. Diphtheria was the leading cause of death among children.

Biography:  Emil Adolf Behring

Emil Von Behring

  • Born in Germany on March 15, 1854
  •   He was the eldest son  of a schoolmaster  and had 12 brothers and sisters.
  •  In 1874, he entered the well-known Army Medical College at Berlin. This made his studies financially practicable but also carried the obligation to stay in military service for several years after he had taken his medical degree (1878) and passed his State Examination (1880).
  • He was then sent to Wohlau and Posen in Poland at the Department of the Experimental Station where there were studies connected with septic diseases.
  •  In the years 1881-1883, he carried out important investigations on the action of iodoform, stating that it does not kill microbes but may neutralize the poisons; thus being antitoxic.
  •  His first publications on these questions appeared in 1882. The governing body concerned with military health  was  interested in the prevention and combating of epidemics.
  • Behring, studied further with pharmacologist C. Binz at Bonn in experimental methods.
  •  In 1888, he was ordered back to Berlin  where he worked as an assistant at the Institute of Hygiene under Robert Koch. He  followed Koch when the latter moved to the Institute for Infectious Diseases. This appointment brought him into close association, not only with Koch, but also with P. Ehrlich, who joined, in 1890, the brilliant team of workers Koch had gathered round him.
  •  In 1894 Behring became Professor of Hygiene at Halle. The following year he moved to the corresponding chair at Marburg.
  • Behring’s most important researches were  bound up with the epoch-making work of Pasteur, Kock, Ehrlich,  Löffler, Roux, Yersin and others, which led the foundation of our modern knowledge of the immunology of bacterial diseases.
  • During the years 1888-1890 E. Roux and A. Yersin, working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, had shown that filtrates of diphtheria cultures which contained no bacilli, contained a substance which they called a toxin, that produced, when injected into animals, all the symptoms of diphtheria.  (See below picture of Pasteur Institute in Paris.)

    Pasteur Institute in Paris

  •  In 1890, L. Brieger and C. Fraenkel prepared, from cultures of diphtheria bacilli, a toxic substance, which they called toxalbumin, which when injected in suitable doses into guinea-pigs, immunized these animals to diphtheria.
  • Starting from his observations on the action of iodoform, Behring tried to find whether a disinfection of the living organism might be obtained if animals were injected with material that had been treated with various disinfectants.
  •  All the experiments were performed with diphtheria and with tetanus bacilli. They led to the well-known development of a new kind of therapy for these two diseases.
  •  In 1890 Behring and S. Kitasato published their discovery that graduated doses of sterilised brothcultures of diphtheria or of tetanus bacilli caused the animals to produce, in their blood, substances which could neutralize the toxins which these bacilli produced (antitoxins).
  • They also showed that the antitoxins thus produced by one animal could immunize another animal and that it could cure an animal actually showing symptoms of diphtheria. This great discovery was soon confirmed and successfully used by other workers.
  • Earlier in 1898, Behring and F. Wernicke had found that immunity to diphtheria could be produced by the injection into animals of diphtheria toxin neutralized by diphtheria antitoxin.
  • In 1907 Theobald Smith had suggested that such toxin-antitoxin mixtures might be used to immunize man against this disease. It was Behring, however, who announced, in 1913, his production of a mixture of this kind, and subsequent work which modified and refined the mixture originally produced by Behring resulted in the modern methods of immunization which have largely banished diphtheria from the scourges of mankind.
  •  Behring himself saw in his production of this toxin-antitoxin mixture the possibility of the final eradication of diphtheria; and he regarded this part of his efforts as the crowning success of his life’s work.
  • Numerous distinctions were conferred upon Behring. Already in 1893 the title of Professor was conferred upon him, and two years later he became «Geheimer Medizinalrat» and officer of the French Legion of Honour.
  • Behring died at Marburg on March 31, 1917.

Movie made in 1940 about the life of Dr. Behring

Trailer from The Magic Bullet   (Turn up sound)

Institute Pasteur

Footnote:The Pasteur Institute in Paris was founded in 1887.  It has been in the forefront of the battle against infectious disease.  It was the first to isolate HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (1983).  Besides the diseases mentioned in the writing above, it worked on control of poliomyelitis, influenza, yellow fever, and plague.  Since 1908, eight Pasteur Institute scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology.

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