Sunday, June 15, 2014

Thomas H. Weller

Thomas Huckle Weller was born on June 15th 1915 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Born into a family of physicians, his father served as chair of pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School.Weller attended the University of Michigan where he studied biology earning his BA in 1936. He completed his masters a year later and then went to  Harvard Medical School where he studied tropical medicine, graduating in 1940. Weller began his residency at Children's Hospital in Boston in 1941, but his training was interrupted by World War II and three years of service in the United States Army where he earned the rank of major and he headed the departments of bacteriology, virology and parisitology at the Army research station in Puerto Rico. After the war Weller returned to Harvard and the Department of Comparative Pathology and Tropical Medicine where he worked under John Franklin Enders.

Enders was working on growing viruses in culture. Viruses, unlike bacteria, are unable to reproduce on their own, so strictly speaking they are not living organisms. Viruses require a host cell in order to reproduce. Each cell has a mechanism by which it reproduces itself. Viruses take over this mechanism and use it to produce more viruses. Viruses grown in the laboratory must be grown in a cell culture. Different viruses infect and use different types of cells to reproduce. Enders and Weller were studying which types of cultured cells could be used to grow different types of viruses. Working with Enders, Weller was the first to be able to grow poliovirus in culture. Poliovirus enters humans via the the cells of the alimentary canal and migrates to other cells. It can infect motor neuron cells causing paralysis. For their development of the ability to cultivate the poliovirus Weller, Enders, and Frederick C. Robbins were awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. With the ability to grow poliovirus in culture Jonas Salk was able to create a vaccine for polio and the disease has virtually been eliminated.

In 1954 Weller was appointed the Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Tropical Public Health, which he remained until 1983. In addition to his work growing polio virus, Weller also isolated and grew varicella virus (the virus that causes chicken pox and shingles). He was also able to grow rubella and cytomeglovirus. Weller was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1964. Weller was made professor emeritus in 1984.

Weller died on August 23, 2008.


McIntosh, Kenneth; "Thomas H. Weller:1915-2008"; National Academy Press; 2011

Roache, Christina; "Thomas H. Weller, Nobel Laureate, Professor Emeritus, Dies"; Harvard School of Public Health press releases; August 26, 2008

Thomas Weller Nobel Biography

Thomas Weller Wikipedia Entry

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