Emil von Behring researched treatments for the common childhood disease diphtheria in Germany in the 1890s and early 1900s. Diphtheria is a lethal disease that infected approximately 40,000 people in Germany between 1886 and 1888 with a general mortality rate of twenty-five percent. Behring investigated treatment of diphtheria using serum therapy, which is an alternative to vaccination that uses protective agents from other people’s blood to defend a patient against disease. Behring termed those protective agents antitoxins. He received the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on serum therapy, which was one of the first Nobel Prizes given in the field of immunology. Additionally, Behring researched active vaccination as another way to protect patients from diphtheria. Behring’s studies lowered the mortality rate of diphtheria in Germany through serum therapy and vaccination, especially since vaccination confers protection to both mother and infant during pregnancy and after birth.

In the late 1990s researchers Yuk Ming Dennis Lo and his colleagues isolated fetal DNA extracted from pregnant woman’s blood. The technique enabled for more efficient and less invasive diagnoses of genetic abnormalities in fetuses, such as having too many copies of chromosomes. Lo’s team published their results in 1997’s “Presence of Fetal DNA in Maternal Plasma and Serum.” The results led to developments of clinical tests that can access fetal genetic information and detect genetic abnormalities before birth without the significant risks that can potentially harm the fetus associated with invasive genetic testing techniques.