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Clemens von Pirquet
  1. Clemens Scheinecker1,
  2. Dietrich Kraft2
  1. 1 Rheumatology, Medizinische Universität Wien, Wien, Austria
  2. 2 General and Experimental Pathology, Medizinische Universitat Wien, Wien, Austria
  1. Correspondence to Professor Clemens Scheinecker, Rheumatology, Medizinische Universität Wien, Wien 1090, Austria; clemens.scheinecker{at}

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Clemens Peter Freiherr von Pirquet, a great physician-scientist who described serum sickness and opened the field of allergy, was born in Hirschstetten near Vienna on 12 May 1874 into a distinguished family of the old Austrian-Hungarian empire (see figure 1). His father Peter Zeno von Pirquet held important positions in the Austrian parliament. His mother belonged to an assimilated Jewish banking family. After his school years in Vienna, Clemens, started theological studies on request of his mother, first at the University of Innsbruck and later at the Philosophical Faculty at the University of Leuven in Belgium. After having finished his theological studies with a master degree, he began to study medicine in Vienna and subsequently in Königsberg and Graz where he received his MD degree in 1900. After a military service, he started his training in paediatrics at the Charité in Berlin where he also met his future wife Maria Christina van Husen. In 1901, they returned to Vienna where he became junior doctor at the St. Anna Children’s Hospital led by Theodor Escherich (1857–1911), who discovered the Escherichia coli bacteria. At the same time he worked with Rudolf Kraus, the first scientist to demonstrate precipitation of antibody and antigen at the Institute for Serotherapy at Vienna University.

Figure 1

Photograph of Clemens von Pirquet.

Between 1903 and 1910, Pirquet made his most important, pioneering contributions investigating host reactions to foreign substances and thereby providing much of the foundation for today’s modern immunology.

In 1905, he published the first fundamental analysis of the ‘serum sickness’.1 At that time, the established treatment of diphtheria infection was the application of an antiserum obtained from horses that had been immunised with diphtheria toxin. This therapy was protective against and was able to cure the disease but …

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  • Handling editor Gerd-Rüdiger R Burmester

  • Contributors Both authors have designed and written the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.