[EAS] Maurice Hilleman
Peter J. Kindlmann
pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Apr 25 22:02:46 EDT 2005
> "... it was said that he had saved more lives than any other
> scientist in the 20th century. His peers said that he had done more
> for preventive medicine than anyone since Louis Pasteur. .... Some
> said he should have had the Nobel. The same was said about Jonas
> Salk, who developed the first successful vaccine for polio. But the
> Nobel prizegivers tend to favour basic science rather than applied
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If it doesn't work for you, the text follws. --PJK
Apr 21st 2005
From The Economist print edition
Maurice Hilleman, pioneer of preventive medicine, died on April 11th, aged 85
A STORY that Maurice Hilleman liked to tell to illustrate his work as
a developer of vaccines concerned his daughter Jeryl Lynn. In 1963 at
the age of five she caught mumps, a highly infectious disease of
childhood that is usually benign but can be a killer. Mr Hilleman
used swabs to collect the mumps virus growing in her throat, and
preserved it in a jar of beef broth. He produced a form of the virus
that was too weak to cause disease but strong enough to trigger the
body's natural defences and make the person immune. The weakened
strain, named after Jeryl Lynn, has become the standard vaccine to
prevent mumps. The disease is now rare, at least in rich countries.
Identifying the problem, collecting data, finding a solution: Mr
Hilleman developed some 40 vaccines, among them for measles,
hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, meningitis and pneumonia. He developed
the one-shot vaccine that can prevent several diseases, such as MMR
(measles, mumps and rubella). When in 1988 President Reagan presented
him with the National Medal of Science, America's highest scientific
honour, it was said that he had saved more lives than any other
scientist in the 20th century. His peers said that he had done more
for preventive medicine than anyone since Louis Pasteur.
Even allowing for the hyperbole generated on such occasions the
commendations were merited. Some said he should have had the Nobel.
The same was said about Jonas Salk, who developed the first
successful vaccine for polio. But the Nobel prizegivers tend to
favour basic science rather than applied research. It was Pasteur
(1822-95) who discovered that a weakened microbe could be used as an
immunisation against its more virulent form, and all succeeding
microbiologists have had to live under his long shadow.
Waiting for bird flu
Mr Hilleman's greatest contribution to a healthy world may have been
his work on the safe mass production of vaccines that can be stored
ready for use against the pandemics that since antiquity have
regularly swept across continents, such as the 1918 flu outbreak that
killed more than 20m people. In 1957, when flu swept through Hong
Kong, Mr Hilleman identified the virus as a new form to which people
had no natural immunity and passed on his findings to vaccine-makers.
When the virus reached the United States a few months later 40m doses
of vaccine were ready to limit its damage. Mr Hilleman established
that the flu virus is constantly mutating, making it difficult to
provide a reliable vaccine. Developing a vaccine can be complex. His
fellow-workers saw him as an artist as much as a scientist, bringing
to his discipline an instinctive feeling of what would work.
Following his guidelines, many nations are making large quantities of
what they believe will be useful vaccines in the hope of defeating a
possible pandemic of bird flu, should the virus spread from Asia.
Getting a vaccine through its numerous trials to be licenced for
public use was the big thrill in Mr Hilleman's life, he said. It was
like being young again, like being back in Miles City, his home town
in Montana, when they had something to celebrate, such as building a
barn. "Everyone would get together, sit on a log, get a fresh bucket
of water and pass around a cup." Did you say water?
Life was simple then, he said. He picked up things there that he
could have learnt nowhere else, such as hypnotising a chicken, an
animal that has, if involuntarily, contributed much to medical
research. Miles City sounds primitive rather than simple. It had been
a frontier town and the older inhabitants still told stories of
Indian battles. Young Hilleman was poor. His mother and twin sister
had died during his birth and he and his seven surviving siblings had
been brought up on a farm by relations. At the age of 18 he was
working in a shop.
For a young man who felt that life must have more to offer than
selling goods to cowboys and their girlfriends, there were two
glimpses of a more interesting world. One was his homemade radio,
which could just pick up talk and music programmes broadcast from
distant Chicago. The other was the local public library, where he
found a copy of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species", which had
avoided the censorship of the town's fundamentalist church.
He did eventually escape, first to the local state university and
then to the University of Chicago, where he studied microbiology.
America was by then at war. Mr Hilleman's contribution to winning it
was to develop vaccines to protect soldiers fighting in the Pacific.
After the war he worked for the Walter Reed army medical centre and
then joined Merck, a pharmaceutical company, which, over some 27
years, provided him with the facilities to explore the mysteries of
Mr Hilleman believed that science would eventually rid the world of
disease, as it had disposed of smallpox in 1979 and is close to
banishing polio. But the big killers, tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS,
were holding out, especially AIDS. He was baffled that 18 years of
research had not produced a vaccine to prevent HIV, which can lead to
AIDS. Mr Hilleman, usually a gentle, patient man, got angry about
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