Silver bullet in flightThe expression ‘a magic bullet’ is used to refer to a substance or therapy capable of instantly and effectively destroying pathogens (a virus, bacteria or cancer cells), thus providing a side effect-free remedy for a disease or condition. The Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Ehrlich coined the term in 1906, using the German word ‘zauberkugel’ (magic ball) to describe antibodies that target a bacterium, in this case the agent causing syphilis, without affecting other organisms. As an effective non-fatal treatment for an infectious disease, this was an amazing discovery! It was not, however, a spontaneous cure. Nevertheless, the expression took off, building on centuries-old ideas of divine intervention or charmed solutions to apply to all kinds of complex problems: from ageing to addiction to poverty. There is, of course, no magic bullet for any of these things! Only reassurance that progress can be made through good old-fashioned hard work.

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