August von Wassermann


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German bacteriologist and immunologist who discovered a practical diagnostic test for syphilis (the Wassermann reaction) that, together with other tests, is still used today.

Wassermann was born in Bamberg, Bavaria, and studied at Erlangen, Vienna, Munich, and Strasbourg. He began his career as a physician in Strasbourg in 1888 but two years later became an assistant to Robert Koch at the Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases in Berlin, later becoming director of the department of experimental therapy and serum research (1906–13).

In 1906, in the wake of a number of important discoveries in immunology by his contemporaries, Wassermann developed his test for syphilis. It depends on the fact that the blood of an infected person contains antibodies to the causative agent, Treponema pallidum, that form a complex with known antigens. This complex can be detected by its ability to fix complement, a component of the blood. In 1913 Wassermann became director of the department of experimental therapy at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, where he developed a diagnostic test for tuberculosis and researched the possibilities of diagnosing cancer by testing reactions taking place in the blood serum.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.

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