Who was Emil von Behring?

100 years ago, on October 30, 1901, the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded for the first time. It was attributed to the bacteriologist and serologist Emil von Behring (1854-1917), who discovered the diphtheria and tetanus antitoxin. He was also called the “savior of the children” because they benefited from his insights in the 19th century, when many of them were dying of diphtheria. But even during the First World War, many people owed their lives to him and the  tetanus  prophylaxis based on his research.

Behring – Unknown Genius

Emil von Behring, son of a teacher, was born the fifth of thirteen children on March 15, 1854 in Hansdorf, West Prussia. In Berlin he studied medicine, financed by a nine-year military service. In 1889 he became an assistant at Robert Koch’s Hygiene Institute, where he found a vaccine against diphtheria in 1893 with the help of various methods developed by Paul Ehrlich.

In 1904 von Behring founded the “Behring works” in Marburg. In his own company he continued his research into  tuberculosis , tetanus and diphtheria. He also dealt with the topic of milk hygiene. In 1913, von Behring announced the development of a diphtheria vaccine that would provide lasting protection. On March 31, 1917, Emil von Behring died in Marburg at the age of 63.

Behring’s serum therapy for diphtheria

Diphtheria is a highly infectious bacterial disease that   begins harmlessly with a sore throat  and  fever . In the process, disorders of the heart, kidneys and liver appear, caused by the poison (toxin) excreted by the bacterial pathogens. At the beginning of the 19th century, diphtheria was the childhood disease with the highest mortality.

In 1883 the causative agent of diphtheria (Corynebacterium diphteriae) was discovered by the German pathologist Edwin Klebs (1834 – 1913). But it was only 10 years later that the infectious disease could be treated using “Behring’s serum therapy”.

 

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