Paul Ehrlich was born in 1854 in Strehlen, then Germany. In 1878 he received his M.D. degree from the university of Berlin and joined a team, that was investigating the tuberculosis bacillus. During this research he was infected by the disease and was compelled to retire for two years until his recovery. In 1896, he was appointed head of the Institute for Serum Research in Berlin.
In 1908, Paul Ehrlich was awarded, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Ilya Mechnikov, “in recognition of their work on immunity”.
From 1890, Ehrlich engaged principally in the locating of substances for human immunity. He aspired to discover “the magic bullet”, as he referred to it – a chemical substance that would serve as a cure, eliminating the causes of the disease without effecting the patient.
In the process of his research, he succeeded in developing a serum against the diphtheria disease and an arsanobenzen compound capable of destroying syphilis germs. In so doing, he freed the world from the horrors of a disease which had taken innumerable victims from the time of its appearance in Europe in the mid 15th century.
Ehrlich laid the foundations to modern chemotherapy, which is mainly characterized by introducing toxic substances into the body, whose effect on the disease exceeds the damage caused to the patient’s body.
Paul Ehrlich died in 1915. He is considered the most significant researcher of medicine of the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
Gabriel Lippmann was born in 1845 in Luxembourg. In 1875, he was awarded a doctorate in physics at the Sorbonne University, Paris, and became professor of mathematical physics. Lippmann also served as chairman of the experimental physics department. In 1912, Lippmann was elected President of the French Academy of Science.
Gabriel Lippmann was awarded the 1908 Nobel prize in physics, for the development of the technique of color photography, based upon the phenomenon of light interference.
Lippmann placed a sheet of glass coated with a light-sensitive emulsion In front of the object to be photographed. Then, he created with the aid of a mirror a collision between the light waves comming from the oposite directions. Thus, the interference of light was captured on the photographic sheet of glass, as intermittent light and dark bands. The distance between the bands was determined by the color of the light that produced them.
When one looks at such a photograph, the interference is recreated, but this time in the eye of the observer, who enjoys the colorful picture of the object.
Although it was color photography that gained Gabriel Lippmann world recognition, his other scientific achievements are no less important. He developed various instruments, engaged in seismography and astronomy, and even submitted an significant thesis on electron research.
Gabriel Lippmann passed away in 1921.
Ilya Mechnikov was born in the Ukraine in 1845. He received his Ph.D. from the University of St. Petersburg and joined the staff there as a lecturer in Zoology and Anatomy. Later he moved to the University of Odessa, but following the persecution of the Jews after Czar Alexander’s murder, he left Russia and moved to Italy, and then to Paris, to the Institute Louis Pasteur. Mechnikov died in 1916 at the age of 71.
Ilya Mechnikov was awarded the 1908 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine together with Paul Ehrlich, “In recognition of their work on immunity.”
In observations that he made on transparent fish, Mechnikov noticed cells surrounding and swallowing foreign bodies that had entered the fish, with the intent of destroying them. He called these cells Phagocytes – devouring cells.
On the basis of this observation Mechnikov claimed that disease is actually a battle between foreign bodies, such as bacteria, and auto-policing cells. Cure of the body is achieved following the victory of the policing cells, and immunizing the body prevents the renewed outburst of the bacteria.
Mechnikov was the first to claim that devouring cells have an additional role: to engulf and destroy normal tissue that the body no longer needs.
Ilya Mechnikov’s discoveries on the role of the devouring cells have formed the basis for many immunological studies, and have changed the way we perceive the body’s struggle with disease.