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The Influence of Paul Ehrlich on the Pharmaceutical Industry

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Paul Ehrlich has had a major influence on the pharmaceutical industry in the 19th century, enabling the world to find a cure for a disease and developed a chemical theory about the human body. According to Ehrlich (1908) the cell concept is the axis around which the whole of the modern science of life revolves. The generation of the medical industry are leading the adoption of Ehrlich’s findings to treat patients.

Paul Ehrlich was born on March 14, 1854 in Strehlen, Silesia now known as Strzelin, Poland. His father, Ismar Ehrlich, was a respected Jewish distiller, innkeeper, and lottery collector. His mother, Rosa Ehrlich Weigert, was an industrious woman with notable intelligence.

Paul Ehrlich was the only son and last born in his family of six. The family lived in a comfortable household in the country town of Silesia. Rosa Weigert, Paul’s mother, had a cousin Carl Weigert. Carl Weigert was a pathologist and prosector of the hospitals in Frankfurt where he published hundred of papers. Carl was only nine years older than Paul and both of them became lifelong friends. It was Carl that steered him towards the world of medicine and dyes.

Paul attended the local primary school when he was just six years old. He then moved to Breslau and boarded with a professor’s family while studying at St Maria Magdalena Humanistic Gymnasium at age ten. There, he disliked examinations but his favourite subjects were Math and Latin. He then applied to the disappointing introductory course to natural science at Berslau University, Strasbourg, which lead him to be accepted in Strassburg to study medicine. With his interest in tissue staining, Paul devoted extra hours with anatomist Wilhelm Von Waldeyer to make histological practices with dyes. Nevertheless, he was not an outstanding student but he still managed to pass his examinations. In 1874, he returned to Berslau to obtain a medical degree.

The pathologists Julius Cohnheim and Carl Weigert, physiologist Rudolf Heidenhain, botanist Ferdinand Cohn, American pathologist W.H. Welchand and Danish bacteriologist, J Salomonsen all were friendly with Paul and worked together to introduce him to aniline dyes. In Weigert’s laboratory, Paul studied the action of dyes on cells and tissues. His first paper in 1877 led him to pass his state medical examination. After graduation, Paul was appointed head physician at Charite hospital in Berlin. There the owner of the hospital encouraged him to work on his histological research to improve quality of diagnosis of patients. During that time, his observation that the pH of dyes related to specific cellular components lead him to believe that chemical affinity govern all chemical processes. In the 1880s, it was for interest in Italy to question the cause of tuberculosis because it was informally known as the consumption of the lungs together with the idea of its contagious nature. Robert Koch conducted experiments in his laboratory, Berlin. In his experiments, he noticed the occurrence of a rod like microorganism in tuberculosis tissues known as tuberculosis bacillus. Paul emphasized Koch’s study by showing that the bacteria had failed to stain in his alkaline aqueous dye solution because the dye had penetrated the bacillary cell wall that was acidic. In 1888, Paul had to take a break from his career as he was affected by the bacteria during his laboratory work.

In 1885, he challenged Pfluger’s conclusion that oxidation and reduction in cells is the direct entry and exit of oxidation. Instead, Paul had said that the oxidation and reduction were the cause of hydrogen atoms. Just two years later he reasoned that methylene blue was vital in staining the neurons and subsequently used the dye to kill neurological pain. This lead him to find out that malaria parasites had also stained well with methylene blue which he was able to cure two malarial patients with. In 1891, Emil Adolf von Behring and Shibasaburo Kitasato published a paper on tetanus and diphtheria antitoxins. The paper was about how administering diphtheria and tetanus toxins to animals will stimulate the production of anti-toxins. These anti toxins can then be used to immunize other animals. Paul was able to develop immunization protocols and used horses for the commercial production of the serums of antitoxins. In 1896, he was appointed the head in the Institute for Serum Research and Serum Testing in Berlin.

Always forward thinking, Paul wanted to come up with an explanation for immunity. In 1897, he discovered the side chain theory where it was due to the side chain that allowed cells to bind with toxins which triggers the production of more side chains to act as antibodies then.

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