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Techniques & Technologies

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Nurse playing with a young boy undergoing chemotherapy, 2007.

Nurse playing with a young boy undergoing chemotherapy, 2007.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

This term was coined by the chemist and immunologist Paul Ehrlich in 1906. He meant the cure of infection using a known chemical which bound to the bacterial cell causing the infection and killed just it, leaving healthy cells undamaged. Salvarsan 606 which his team developed as a cure for syphilis between 1909 and 1910 was the first example. In the 1930s the phrase came to be used to describe any kind of treatment of illness with chemicals.

The sulphonamide drugs such as sulphanilamide introduced in the late 1930s were seen to be latest models, as antibiotics came to be widely used against bacteria. From the 1940s simpler chemicals were beginning to be used against cancer. Cancer chemotherapy seemed to promise great hopes, and the word's meaning began to change. Today the word 'chemotherapy' generally relates to the treatment of cancer with chemicals.


Related links

Techniques and Technologies:

External links:


 D Cantor (ed), Cancer in the Twentieth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)

J Lesch, The First Miracle Drugs: How the Sulfa Drugs Transformed Medicine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)



Basic unit of all living organisms, it can reproduce itself exactly.


A sexually transmitted infection resulting in the formation of lesions throughout the body.


Antibacterial drugs used to treat diseases like bronchitis and pneumonia, derived from sulphanilamide


A form of sulphonamide used in the treatment of various bacterial infections.