Ernst Boris Chain Biography

(British Biochemist and Co-Recipient of the 1945 Nobel Prize in Medicine for His Work on Penicillin)

Birthday: June 19, 1906 (Gemini)

Born In: Berlin, Germany

Sir Ernst Boris Chain was a biochemist whose works earned him the prestigious Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945. He jointly won the award with the fellow scientists Sir Alexander Fleming and Sir Howard Walter Florey. The trio was instrumental in developing the world’s first antibiotic, penicillin, which proved to be of immense use in the treatment of wounded soldiers during the World War II. Ernst Boris Chain developed an interest for chemistry from a young age and subsequently completed his graduation in Chemistry and Physiology from the Friedrich Wilhelm University. He later engaged in research work at the Institute of Pathology, Charité Hospital in Berlin, until he was forced to shift to England due to anti-semitic policies of Hitler. He worked in different capacities at Cambridge, Oxford University, and at the University of London. Towards the later part of his career he served as the Director of the International Research Centre for Chemical Microbiology, Superior Institute of Health, in Rome. He along with pathologist Howard Florey isolated and worked on pencillin, which was found by Alexander Fleming almost a decade earlier. The duo was successfully able to identify its antibiotic properties. Post his retirement, he continued delivering lectures.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In June

Also Known As: Sir Ernst Boris Chain

Died At Age: 73


Spouse/Ex-: Anne Chain (m. 1948–1979), his death)

Born Country: Germany

Biochemists British Men

Died on: August 12, 1979

place of death: Castlebar, Ireland

Notable Alumni: Friedrich Wilhelm University, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates In Physiology

City: Berlin, Germany

More Facts

education: Friedrich Wilhelm University, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

awards: 1945 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1954 - Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize

Childhood & Early Life
Ernst Boris Chain was born on 19 June 1906, at Berlin, to chemist and industrialist, Dr. Michael Chain, and his wife, Margarete Eisner.
He completed his school education at Luisengymnasium at Berlin. During his school days he would frequently visit his father’s laboratory and subsequently developed an interest in biochemistry.
In 1930, he graduated with a degree in Chemistry and Physiology from the Friedrich Wilhelm University at Berlin.
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After completing his graduation, he worked at the Charité Hospital in Berlin for three years. During this period, he focused on enzyme research.
With the Nazis coming into power he realized that Germany would not be safe for him as he was a Jew. On 2 April 1933, he shifted to London, England. Upon arriving in England, with the assistance of renowned scientist J.B.S. Haldane he received an opportunity to work at the University College Hospital, London.
After a few months, he was accepted as a PhD student at the Fitzwilliam House affiliated with Cambridge University. At the university, he studied phospholipids under the guidance of biochemist Frederick Gowland Hopkins.
In 1935, he began working at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology of the Oxford University. The following year he was made demonstrator and lecturer in chemical pathology.
While pursuing his career as a lecturer, he simultaneously conducted extensive research on diverse areas that include studying the metabolism of tumours, understanding biochemistry techniques, conducting research on lysosomes and snake venom.
In 1939, he, along with Australian pathologist and pharmacologist, Howard Florey, engaged in intensive research on natural antibacterial agents generated by microorganisms.
These studies led to the revisiting the works of biologist Alexander Fleming. Alexander Fleming had explained in detail about the penicillin mold almost a decade earlier. Ernst Boris Chain along with Howard Florey worked on the chemical structure and therapeutic characteristics of Penicillin.
He developed theory on the structure of the antibiotic that was later confirmed through X-Ray Crystallography by biochemist Dorothy Hodgkin. This research earned them the Nobel Prize in 1945.
Penicillin was widely used for the treatment of the armed forces during the World War II. After the war it was made available for civilian use as well.
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Post the World War II, he shifted to Rome and joined the Istituto Superiore di Sanità as the Scientific Director of the International Research Centre for Chemical Microbiology at the Institute, in 1948. He remained in the institute till 1961.
In 1961, he moved to Britain and was appointed as the Founder and Head at the Department of Biochemistry at the Imperial College in London. He remained in the college until his retirement in 1973. Post his retirement, he continued to deliver lectures.
His research work during the later years of his career included studies on fermentation technology, production of lysergic acid in a submerged culture, segregation of new fungal metabolites and the carbohydrate-amino acid relationship in nervous tissue.
Major Works
Ernst Boris Chain was a renowned biochemist who was instrumental in refining penicillin and developing the primary antibiotic drug.
Awards & Achievements:
He along with Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945.
In 1946 he received the Silver Berzelius Medal of the Swedish Medical Society. The following year he was made a commander of the Legion d'Honneur.
In 1954, he received the Paul Ehrlich Centenary Prize.
In 1957, he was gifted with the Gold Medal for Therapeutics of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London.
In 1969, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
He was bestowed honorary degrees from the universities of Bordeaux, Paris, La Plata, Cordoba, Montevideo, Turin and Brazil.
He was also a member of numerous learned societies across several countries like the New York Academy of Medicine, Académie des Sciences in Paris, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, National Institute of Sciences in India and the Finnish Biochemical Society, to name a few.
Personal Life & Legacy
Ernst Boris Chain married biochemist Annie Chain Beoff-Chain in 1948. The couple had three children; two sons Benjamin and Daniel, and a daughter named Judith.
He died of heart failure on 12 August 1979, at Mayo General Hospital, in Castlebar, Ireland.
The biochemistry building of the Imperial College in London is named after Ernst Boris Chain.
A road in the county town of Castlebar in Ireland is also named after him.

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