Paul Ehrlich - Research - Serum Research - Friendship With Robert Koch

Friendship With Robert Koch

When a student in Breslau, the pathologist Julius Friedrich Cohnheim gave Ehrlich an opportunity to conduct extensive experiments, and also introduced him to Robert Koch, who was at the time a district physician in Wollstein, Posen Province. In his spare time, Koch had clarified the life cycle of the anthrax pathogen and contacted Ferdinand Cohn who was quickly convinced by Koch’s work and introduced him to his Breslau colleagues. From 30 April to 2 May 1876 Koch presented his investigations in Breslau, which the student Paul Ehrlich was able to experience.

On 24 March 1882 Ehrlich was present when Robert Koch, working since 1880 at the Imperial Public Health Office (Kaiserliches Gesundheitsamt) in Berlin, presented the lecture in which he reported how he was able to identify the tuberculosis pathogen. Ehrlich later described this lecture as his “greatest experience in science”. Already the day after Koch’s lecture Ehrlich had made an improvement to Koch’s staining method, which Koch unreservedly welcomed. From this date on, the two men were bound in friendship.

In 1887 Ehrlich became an unsalaried lecturer in internal medicine (Privatdozent für Innere Medizin) at Berlin University, and in 1890 took over the tuberculosis station at a public hospital in Berlin-Moabit at Koch’s request. This was where Koch’s alleged tuberculosis therapeutic agent tuberculin was under study, and Ehrlich also had himself injected with it. In the ensuing tuberculin scandal, Ehrlich tried to support Koch and stressed the value of tuberculin for diagnostic purposes. In 1891 Koch invited Ehrlich to work at the newly founded Institute of Infectious Diseases (Institut für Infektionskrankheiten – now the Robert Koch Institute) at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (now Humboldt University) in Berlin. Koch was unable to give him any remuneration, but did offer him full access to laboratory staff, patients, chemicals and laboratory animals, which Ehrlich always remembered with gratitude.

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