von Behring, Emil Adolf


Emil Adolf von Behring (1854–1917) was a German medical scientist who developed antitoxins against diphtheria and tetanus. For his work on the diphtheria antitoxin, he was elevated to the Prussian nobility (and thereafter known as von Behring) and also awarded the first Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1901. In 1895, he assumed the chair of hygiene at the University of Marburg, where he remained until his death, working on tuberculosis and developing an active preventive vaccine against diphtheria.

Key Concepts:

  • Diphtheria and tetanus bacilli produce toxins which cause the symptoms of these diseases.

  • Using guinea‐pigs and then sheep, Behring worked to develop serum antitoxin into a useful therapeutic agent for the treatment of diphtheria.

  • The major success of Behring's later years was the development in 1913 of an active preventive vaccine against diphtheria, based on a toxin–antitoxin mixture rendered stable by formaldehyde.

Keywords: antitoxin; bacteriology; diphtheria; immunology; tetanus

Figure 1.

Emil Von Behring. This image has been sourced from the National Library of Medicine's ‘Images from the History of Medicine’ website at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/ihm/ and is believed to be in the Public Domain.


Further Reading

Behring E von (1893) Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur ätiologischen Therapie von ansteckenden Krankheiten. Leipzig: Thieme.

Behring E von (1915) Gesammelte Abhandlungen. Neue Folge. Bonn: Marcus and Webers.

Fox DM, Meldrum M and Rezak I (eds) (1990) Noble Laureates in Medicine or Physiology. New York: Garland.

Gillispie CC (ed.) (1970–1980) Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Hess V (2008) The administrative stabilization of vaccines: regulating the diphtheria antitoxin in France and Germany, 1994–1900. Science in Context 21: 201–227.

Hüntelmann AC (2007) Diphtheria serum and serotherapy: development, production, and regulation in fin de siècle Germany. Dynamis 27: 107–131.

Klöppel U (2008) Enacting cultural boundaries in French and German diphtheria research. Science in Context 21: 161–180.

Lechevalier H and Solotorovsky M (1965) Three Centuries of Microbiology. New York: McGraw‐Hill.

Linton DS (2005) Emil Von Behring: Infectious Disease, Immunology, Serum Therapy. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

Satter H (1967) Emil von Behring. Bad Godesberg: Inter Nationes.

Simon J (2007) Emil Behring's medical culture: from disinfection to serotherapy. Medical History 51: 201–218.

Zeiss H (1940) Behring: Gestalt und Werk. Berlin‐Grunewald: Schultz.

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How to Cite close
Parascandola, John(Sep 2011) von Behring, Emil Adolf. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002554.pub2]