Gerhard Domagk Biography (1895-1964)


Gerhard Domagk discovered the first synthetic drug that could be used to battle the effects of many bacterial diseases. He was born in Lagow, Brandenburg(which is now Poland, but was then Germany) on October 30, 1895. Domagk beganhis studies at the University of Kiel but abruptly stopped at the outbreak of World War I during which he served in the military and was wounded in action. He returned to school to study medicine and was awarded a medical degree in 1921.

After his schooling, Domagk began working for I.G. Farbenindustrie, a large company that manufactured industrial dyes. Because of his medical training, hedid research on dyes with an eye toward their medical applications. One newly manufactured dye, called Prontosil Red, was of particular interest to Domagk. In 1932, Domagk found that when he injected dye into mice infected with Streptococcus bacteria, it cured the animals of the usually fatal effects and seemed to have few side effects. More dramatically, when his daughter Hildegarde contracted a serious Streptococcus infection after prickingherself with a knitting needle infected with a virulent bacteria in the laboratory, Domagk, in desperation, administered large doses of Prontosil to her,judging the dosage based only on his experiments with mice. In 1935, the story of her recovery spread like wildfire all over the world. Prontosil was later used by Franklin D. Roosevelt's son who was dying of an infection.

Domagk and many others quickly followed up on his discovery. The same year, aFrench researcher, Daniel Bovet, discovered that it was just one portion ofthe Prontosil molecule that was effective against bacteria--a sulfonamide called sulfanilamide. This portion of the molecule blocks coenzyme action in bacteria and kills them. In England it was found that the chemical was effectivein controlling bacterial meningitis, pneumonia and gonorrhea. In rapid order, other sulfonamide drugs, dubbed "sulfa" drugs, were developed which saved many lives and gave the world community hope of curing infectious disease during the 1930s. These drugs included sulfanilamide, sulfapyridine, sulfathiazole, and sulfadiazine.

In 1939 Domagk was recognized for his contribution with a Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology. He initially accepted the award but later was forced torefuse it because Adolf Hitler coerced German scientists into refusing awardsby threatening them with arrest and even jailing. After Hitler's death and the end of World War II, Domagk accepted his medal and went on to do further research in the area of chemotherapy and its application to tuberculosis and cancer.

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