MAURICE HILLEMAN Biography - Pioneers, Explorers & inventors


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Maurice Ralph Hilleman (b. August 30, 1919, Miles City, Montana - d. April 11,             
2005, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American microbiologist who specialized           
in vaccinology and developed over three dozen vaccines, more than any other               
scientist. Of the fourteen vaccines routinely recommended in current vaccine               
schedules, he developed eight: those for measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis           
B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. He               
also played a role in the discovery of the cold-producing adenoviruses, the               
hepatitis viruses and the cancer-causing virus SV40.                                       
According to Dr. Adel F. Mahmoud, president of Merck Vaccines, Dr. Hilleman's             
work has saved millions of lives, and protected millions more from disease.               
Robert Gallo has described him as "the most successful vaccinologist in history".         
Hilleman was born on a farm near the high plains town of Miles City, Montana.             
His twin sister died when he was born, and his mother died the very next day. He           
credits much of his success to his work with chickens as a boy. Chicken eggs are           
used to develop vaccines based on weakened viruses.                                       
When he was in the eighth grade, he discovered Charles Darwin, and was caught             
reading The Origin of Species in church. Due to lack of money, he almost failed           
to attend college. His eldest brother interceded, and Hilleman graduated from             
Montana State University on a scholarship. He won a fellowship to the University           
of Chicago and received his doctoral degree in microbiology in 1941.                       
After joining E.R. Squibb & Sons (now Bristol-Myers Squibb), he developed a               
vaccine against Japanese B encephalitis, a disease that threatened American               
troops in the Pacific Theater during World War II. As chief of the Department of           
Respiratory Diseases, Army Medical Center (now the Walter Reed Army Institute of           
Research) from 1948 to 1951, he discovered the genetic changes that occur when             
the influenza virus mutates, known as shift and drift. That helped him to                 
recognize that an outbreak of flu in Hong Kong could become a huge pandemic.               
Working on a hunch, he and a colleague found (after nine 14-hour days) that it             
was a new strain of flu that could kill millions. Forty million doses of                   
vaccines were prepared and distributed. Although 69,000 Americans died, the               
pandemic could have resulted in many more US deaths.                                       
In 1957, Hilleman joined Merck & Co. (Whitehouse Station, New Jersey), as head             
of its new virus and cell biology research department in West Point,                       
Pennsylvania. It was while with Merck that Hilleman developed most of the forty           
experimental and licensed animal and human vaccines he is credited with, working           
both at the laboratory bench as well as providing scientific leadership. In 1984,         
he retired from Merck as senior vice president of the Merck Research Labs.                 
In 1963, his daughter Jeryl Lynn came down with the mumps. He cultivated                   
material from her, and used it as the basis of a mumps vaccine. The Jeryl-Lynn             
strain of the mumps vaccine is still used today. The strain is currently used in           
the trivalent MMR vaccine that he developed, the first vaccine ever approved               
incorporating multiple live virus strains.                                                 
Hilleman served on numerous national and international advisory boards and                 
committees, academic, governmental and private, including the National                     
Institutes of Health's Office of AIDS Research Program Evaluation and the                 
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the National Immunization                 
Program. In his later life, Hilleman was an adviser to the World Health                   
At the time of his death on April 11, 2005, at the age of 85, Hilleman was                 
Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine, University of                   
Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.