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Emil Adolf von Behring

[A' mEl fuhn bA' ring] developer of antitoxins against diphtheria and tetanus

Emil Adolf von Behring

Emil Adolf von Behring was born at Hansdorf, West Prussia (now part of Poland), on March 15, 1854, the eldest son of the second marriage of a schoolmaster with a total of 13 children. His family couldn't afford to send him to a university, so in 1874 Behring entered the Army Medicial College at Berlin. He received his medical degree in 1878, and passed his State Examination in 1880.

Now obligated to military service, Behring was sent as an army surgeon to Wohlau and Posen in Poland. At Posen, he had time to study, at the Chemical Department of the Experimental Station, problems connected with septic diseases. Between 1881 and 1883 he investigated the action of idioform, and found that while it did not kill microbes it might neutralize the poisons given off by them, thus making them antitoxic (a word he first used in a scientific paper in 1882). Finding his work useful, the army sent him to Boon, where he undertook further training in experimental methods. In 1888 he was ordered back to Berlin, where he then became an assistant at the Institute of Hygiene under Robert Koch.

At the Institute, Behring spent most of his time in the study of immunity. In 1889 he found that an immunity to diphtheria could be produced in animals by an injection of diphtheria toxin neutralized by diphtheria antitoxin. In 1890 he further demonstrated that a similar immunity could be produced against tetanus by innoculating an animal with blood serum from another animal infected with the disease. He also discovered a bovivaccine for immunizing cattle against tuberculosis.

Behring stayed at the Institute of Hygiene until moving with Koch to the Institute for Infectious Diseases. In 1894 he was appointed Professor of Hygiene at the University of Halle, and in 1895 became Director of the Institute of Hygiene at Marburg. For his many contributions in serum therapy, especially his antitoxin against diptheria, he was awarded the 1901 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.

From 1901 on, ill health prevented Behring from giving regular lectures, and he devoted most of the rest of his life to the study of tuberculosis. A commercial firm in which he had a financial interest built him a well-equipped laboratory at Marburg, and in 1914 he founded the Behringwerke in Marburg for the manufacture of sera and vaccines and for experimental work on both. His work made him financially secure, and he was able to buy a large estate at Marburg, on which he kept a substantial herd of cattle which he used for experimental purposes.

Emil Adolf von Behring died in Marburg on March 31, 1917.

Writings by Behring include:
Blood Serum Therapy (1892)

History of Diphtheria (1893)
Etiological Therapy of Contagious Diseases (1893)
Etiology and Etiological Therapy of Tetanus (1904)
Introduction to the Science of Control of Infectious Diseases (1912)

Robert Koch
Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine

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This page was last updated on 10/28/2017.