Emil Adolf von Behring

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Emil Adolf Behring was a well-known German physiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the first time. Emil was born into a middle-class family and was planning to pursue a career in theology, but fate intervened and he was awarded a scholarship to the military medical school. He served for the required ten years after finishing his school, initially as an assistant surgeon. He also devoted a significant amount of time to research, beginning with the disinfectant iodoform. He investigated the disinfectant’s effects on microbe poisons and concluded that its impact is anti-toxic rather than microbicidal. He then went to Bonn to study under Carl Binz, a well-known German physician. Binz advised Behring on the finer points of conducting microbiology and toxicological research. This inquisitive mind then set about creating an antitoxin to combat the huge diphtheria pandemic. He did research on rat species immune to tetanus with Shibasaburo Kitasato, leading to a groundbreaking finding. When the serum acquired from the immunological species was put into a tetanus patient, the latter developed resistance to the disease. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this discovery. Continue reading to learn more about his life and work.

Childhood and Adolescence

Emil Adolf Behring was born in Hansdorf, Poland, to parents August Georg Behring and Augustine Zech. Augustine was August’s second wife and August was a teacher by profession. Emil was born on March 15, 1854, and grew up in a humble household with twelve siblings.

Emil received his early schooling at the ‘Gymnasium of Hohenstein,’ where he was prepared in orthodox subjects. Despite his interest in medicine, the young boy’s family’s financial situation precluded him from attending university to study medicine.

In keeping with family tradition, he enrolled in the ‘University of Königsberg’ to further his theological study. Emil’s interest in medicine was detected at the university, and one of his mentors assisted him in obtaining a scholarship to the ‘Army Medical College.’

Career of Emil Adolf von Behring

A student was required to serve in the military for at least ten years in exchange for the scholarship. As a result, Adolf entered the military hospital in Berlin as an intern after receiving his medical degree in 1878 and passing the state board entrance examinations two years later.

The military doctor was transported to Poland in 1881, where he worked as a surgeon’s assistant. For a brief length of time, he was also the regiment’s attending physician in Wohlau.

He dedicated a substantial percentage of his time to research in addition to executing his assigned military duties. After encountering a number of patients with sepsis, Behring began to consider whether a living creature could be neutralized internally.

In this regard, he began undertaking research on the disinfectant iodoform in 1881. The following year, his findings were published in his first scientific paper, titled ‘Experimentelle Arbeiten über desinfectierende Mittel.’

He demonstrated that the disinfectant is not a parasiticide, and that rather than killing bacteria, it neutralizes the toxicity generated by microbial action. His discoveries drew the attention of medical authorities, who were attempting to find a viable solution to the epidemics.

Between 1883 and 1887, he did additional research on the effects of iodoform and studied for the ‘Prussian Public Health Service’ entrance examination.

In 1887, he relocated to Bonn’s ‘Pharmacological Institute,’ where he continued his antitoxin study under Carl Binz, a pharmacologist who specialized in quinine. Carl also offered Behring with crucial toxicology insights. He was taught in the best procedures for doing studies on animals with a higher degree of accuracy.

In 1889, Emil was assigned to the ‘Institute of Hygiene’ in Berlin, where he aided Robert Koch. During his time at the institute, he formed a close friendship with another physiologist, P. Ehrlich.

The duo worked closely with Shibasaburo Kitasato to find the chemical that offered resistance to tetanus in white rats. They hypothesized that serum derived from tetanus-resistant living beings could provide immunity to other living organisms when injected into their bloodstream.

It was an efficient technique of generating immunity because it was capable of neutralizing the toxins generated by the microorganisms that cause tetanus in species lacking immunity. In December 1890, their findings were presented in an article titled “blood-serum treatment.”

Behring broadened his research in order to find a cure for diphtheria, and he was successful because an antitoxin derived from a diphtheria-resistant bacteria could be used to treat the disease in animals that were not immune to it.
Behring presented his discoveries to a scholarly audience in London in 1891; his lectures ‘Desinfektion am lebenden Organismus’ explained how immunity might be enhanced by injecting resistant species serum into the bloodstream of non-resistant species.

He published ‘Die praktischen Ziele der Blutserumtherapie and Immunisierungsmethoden zum Zwecke der Gewinnung von Heilserum’ and ‘Das Tetanusheilserum and its Application on Tetanuskranke Menschen’ the following year. His results on the cures for tetanus and diphtheria were detailed in his 1892 articles.

Despite receiving criticism from many experts around the world, he continued to work on discovering a mechanism to obtain significant volumes of the serum. His efforts were supported by a wealthy owner of a dye factory in Frankfurt.

Experiments on blood serum therapy had acquired popularity and were being undertaken widely by 1893. He began his academic career as a Professor of Hygiene at the ‘University of Marburg’ two years later.
He next looked at the possibility of utilizing a toxin and anti-toxin combination to increase immunity in living things. He also spent the rest of his life trying to find a cure for tuberculosis, a disease of the lungs, but he was unsuccessful.

Major Projects of Emil Adolf von Behring

Emil Adolf Behring was a key figure in the development of immunity research, and he made several significant contributions in this area. The most important of them is the invention of antitoxins to treat sepsis and diphtheria, two diseases that have resulted in innumerable human lives.

Achievements & Awards

In 1901, Behring was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on developing cures for epidemics such as diphtheria and tetanus.

In 1902, he was admitted as a foreign member to the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences.’

Personal History and Legacy

Emil married Else Spinola in 1896, and the pair went on to have six children.
On March 31, 1917, the prominent physiologist died in Marburg, Germany.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of Emil Adolf von Behring is unknown.