Nobel Prize Award for Physiology and Medicine 1908 to 1910

About the Nobel Prize Award for Physiology and Medicine from 1908 to 1910 including the scientists Ehrlich and Kocher, their works, and history.


1908 Paul Ehrlich (1845-1915), German

Elie Metchnikoff (1845-1916), French (b. Russia)

Work: Breakthroughs in immunology

Nobel Laureates: A Silesian Jew, Ehrlich worked in Robert Koch's laboratory for a time and, beginning in 1896, was director of a series of research centers in Prussia. He discovered that antibodies could be generated in the body with the infusion of certain poisons and proved that the process of immunity passes first through a latent period. Ehrlich later concocted "compound 606," an arsenic derivative called Salvarsan, which arrested syphilis in humans for the first time in 1911. He standardized toxins and antitoxins and founded and named the science of chemotherapy. He also smoked as many as 25 black cigars a day and chugged huge steins of beer at neighborhood taverns.

Metchnikoff, a Russian-born Jew turned atheist, was an impetuous, often suicidal, quarrelsome young scientist who lurched from one project to the next. He filled his dying young wife with morphine and became an addict himself. After her death, he tried to overdose himself and, when that failed, tried in vain to catch pneumonia. Then he met Olga, the 15-year-old daughter of a family that lived in his building, and pulled himself together. They were marred in 1875. A devout Darwinian, he taught zoology and anatomy at Russian universities and in 1904 directed the Pasteur Institute. He began studying microbes as early as 1882 and soon discovered phagocytes, white blood cells that search out and destroy invading bacteria. Late in life, he promulgated a theory about old age and death. The large intestine, he claimed, generated noxious germs which eventually hardened the arteries and caused death--death by "auto-intoxication," he called it. Hearing that certain Bulgarian villagers were reaching 100 and more on a sour-milk-based diet, he isolated the bacillus that curdled milk and announced that it also counteracted intestinal bacteria, thus prolonging life. The beverage popped up on patent medicine shelves under the Metchnikoff label, and the scientist himself drank sour milk regularly, Alas, he died at 71.

Nobel Lore: Many Nobel judges initially opposed Ehrlich's selection, mainly because of doubts raised about his "side-chain theory" of toxins and antitoxins, but they came around.

1909 Emil Theodor Kocher (1841-1917), Swiss

Work: Developed the surgical technique for the removal of the thyroid gland

1910 Albrecht Kossel (1853-1927), German

Work: Research on the chemistry of cells, particularly the nucleus

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