Contributed by Hassan Aboutaam, Class of 2019
Many people are very grateful for the work of Maurice Hilleman, who can be credited with helping many lives. “Dr. Hilleman probably saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century, said two medical leaders, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Paul A. Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia (Lawrence K. Altman 2005)”. He helped develop around 40 vaccines, 8 of which are recommended, including those for chicken pox, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, and rubella.
Dr. Hilleman was the youngest of eight children and grew up on a farm in Miles City, Montana. Working with chickens as a young boy really contributed to his success, since the 1930s fertile chicken eggs have often been used to grow viruses for vaccines. With the help of family and scholarships, he graduated with a doctoral degree in microbiology in 1944 and wrote his doctoral thesis on chlamydia infections, where he showed that these infections were caused by a bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis.
Dr. Hilleman’s first accomplishment happened after joining E.R Squibb & Sons, where he led the development of a vaccine against Japanese B encephalitis, which treated troops in the Pacific area after World War 2. Dr. Hilleman was also the chief of Respiratory Diseases at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from 1948-1957. During that time, he invented the term shift and drift, which occurs when the influenza virus mutates. This discovery helped create forty million doses of vaccines during the 1957 outbreak of influenza in Hong King which saved many lives.
In 1957, Hilleman joined Merck & Co. in the virus and cell biology research department. He developed forty experimental and licensed animal and human vaccines. In 1963, he made the mumps vaccine by cultivating material from his daughter Jeryl Lynn, who was sick with the mumps. Today, the Jerly Lynn strain is still used, as well as the MMR vaccine, which he also discovered. Furthermore, by treating blood serum with pepsin, urea, and formaldehyde, Hilleman and his group invented a vaccine for hepatitis B. However, it was replaced by a vaccine that was produced in yeast, which is still used today. The disease is believed to have decreased by 95% in the United States. Dr. Hilleman had a major goal of developing a vaccine against any viral cancer. In the 1970’s, he revolutionized the poultry industry by developing a vaccine to prevent Marek’s disease, which was a lymphoma cancer of chickens. He continued on to become an advisor to the world health organization. After his retirement in 1984, he directed the Merck Institute of Vaccinolgy for 20 years before he died on April 11, 2005.
“Lawrence K. Altman, Maurice Hilleman, Master in Creating Vaccines, Dies at 85, The New York Times, n.p., April 12, 2015”
“Hilleman, Maurice Ralph.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2006. (2006). Hilleman, Maurice Ralph. Retrieved September 26, 2016, from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2550300079.html