On February 1, 2014, Dr. Hunein Maassab, inventor of the nasal spray influenza vaccine, passed away in his home in North Carolina; he was 87 years old. Dr. Hunein (John) Maassab was born in Damascus, Syria in 1926 and immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1940s. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in biology in 1950 from the University of Missouri, Maassab continued his education, eventually earning his Master’s degree in physiology and pharmacology in 1952. In 1956 he earned his Doctoral degree in epidemiology from the University of Michigan. It was during his Doctoral training that Dr. Maassab decided his life’s work would be creating vaccines, specifically influenza vaccines.
Through decades of hard work, Dr. Maasaab developed a weakened version of influenza virus that could survive in the cool temperatures of the nose but could not survive in the much warmer temperatures of the rest of the body. Decades of testing in thousands of people eventually determined that Dr. Maassab’s nasal spray influenza vaccine was effective at preventing influenza. In 2003, Dr. Maassab’s vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and eventually licensed as FluMist®. Upon receiving FDA approval, Dr. Maassab was quoted to have said, “I feel in a sense that I have accomplished my life’s dream.
Dr. Hilary Koprowski was born in Poland in 1915 and received his medical degree at the University of Warsaw in 1939. Upon moving to the United States in 1944, Koprowski joined Lederle Laboratories where he developed the first live oral polio vaccine to be used in clinical trials. In 1957, Dr. Koprowski joined the Wistar Institute and became director of the institution. Under Koprowski’s direction, Wistar scientists developed a rubella vaccine that is used in the MMR vaccine. In the 1970s, Dr. Koprowski expanded the scope of his research to include monoclonal antibodies to help detect and diagnose cancer.
Dr. Koprowski left the Wistar Institute in 1991 and joined Thomas Jefferson University as professor of cancer biology and the director of the Center for Neurovirology and Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories. While at Thomas Jefferson University, his research focused on developing plant-based vaccines. Dr. Koprowski passed away in Philadelphia on April 11, 2013; he was 96 years old.
On April 28, 2012, Dr. H Fred Clark passed away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the age of 75.
Dr. Clark was a scientist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia where he co-invented the rotavirus vaccine known as RotaTeq®. The vaccine uses a strain of rotavirus originally isolated from a cow, but modified in Dr. Clark's lab to include individual genes from human rotavirus strains. By modifying the virus in this way, Dr. Clark and colleagues, including Dr. Stanley Plotkin and Dr. Paul Offit, Director, Vaccine Education Center, were able to devise a vaccine that induces protective immunity in babies, preventing the severe diarrhea and vomiting common with this infection.
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recognized Dr. Clark in 2006 with its highest honor, the Gold Medal, which is awarded to those who have had a profound impact on children’s health in the United States and worldwide.
Dr. Clark also devoted much of his time over the years to providing care and support to Haitians who suffered from poverty and injustice. He was one of those rare individuals whose life-saving scientific discovery and dedication to those less fortunate will live well beyond him.
Dr. Millman, a microbiologist who helped develop the hepatitis B vaccine, died on April 17, 2012, in Washington, DC. Working with Dr. Baruch Blumberg at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Dr. Millman helped figure out how to separate the virus from human blood and render it incapable of reproducing when used as a vaccine. Although this process is no longer necessary to produce the hepatitis B vaccine used today (due to improvements in biotechnology which allow the vaccine to be produced without using blood products), it was critical to the development of the first version. Dr. Millman also did work on vaccines for tuberculosis, pertussis and rubella; developed a test for detecting hepatitis B in blood, and researched a bacteria that causes acne.
On April 5, 2011, Dr. Baruch Blumberg passed away in California where he was the keynote speaker at a NASA meeting. He was 85 years old.
Dr. Blumberg discovered the hepatitis B virus surface antigen which later allowed for development of a vaccine for the virus. His work on hepatitis B virus led him to receive the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1976. His book, Hepatitis B: The Hunt for a Killer Virus, tells the story of his research.
On February 21, 2011, Dr. Edwin D. Kilbourne passed away in Connecticut at the age of 90. Dr. Kilbourne's work was central to the development of the methods used in making today's influenza vaccines. Read more in his obituary published in the LA Times»
Dr. Austrian, the inventor of the adult version of the pneumococcal vaccine (see Feature Article), passed away on March 25, 2007. He would have been 91 on April 12. Until his death, Dr. Austrian worked in his research laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia six days a week studying pneumococcus.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Austrian earned his medical degree at Johns Hopkins University in 1941. He spent time researching pneumococcus in New York before joining the faculty of Penn in 1962. During the 1970s, Dr. Austrian oversaw trials of his vaccine in South Africa where gold miners were particularly susceptible to pneumococcal infections because of crowded conditions and exposure to different types of the bacteria in their new surroundings. Dr. Austrian was not only an exemplary scientist, but he was also an inspiration to others.
On April 11, 2005, the world lost one of its premier vaccine researchers when Dr. Maurice Hilleman died at the age of 85. Dr. Hilleman’s may not have been a household name, but his accomplishments touched every household. He is credited with developing vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, meningococcus, pneumococcus, and Japanese encephalitis virus. He was also the first to show that the influenza virus changes each year in such a way that a previous immunization or episode of disease is not enough to protect someone from getting the flu again. Dr. Hilleman’s work saves about eight million lives every year.
When Dr. Hilleman’s daughter Jeryl Lynn had the mumps, he swabbed the back of her throat and weakened the swabbed virus in his lab to create a vaccine for mumps. Today, 1-year-olds still receive the Jeryl Lynn strain of mumps when they are given the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. According to James Truslow Adams, “The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”