The Maurice Hilleman Story: How a Montana Farm Boy Saved 1 Billion People

Kumar Thangudu

July 04, 2015

In 1919, Maurice Hilleman was born in Miles City, Montana.

The next 85 years of his life he would leave a reckoning of life-saving vaccines in his wake, being credited with saving more human lives than any other scientist in the 20th Century.

“Very few people, even in the scientific community, are even remotely aware of the scope of what Maurice has contributed,” Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted at the symposium. “I recently asked my post-docs whether they knew who had developed the measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and chickenpox vaccines. They had no idea,” Fauci said. “When I told them that it was Maurice Hilleman, they said, ‘Oh, you mean that grumpy guy who comes to all of the AIDS meetings?’” (source)

Childhood Interests
 Maurice’s fascination with biology began at a young age, accredited to his time spent raising chickens in Montana. Often times, chicken eggs are used to develop vaccines based on weakened viruses.

Discovered Darwin Eh? At the age of 13, Maurice discovered Darwin. Almost a decade later, he began his PHD at Chicago University studying microbiology. His focus area was Chlamydia caused by a virus. which he proved was not viral, but in fact bacterial. Chlamydia is caused by anyspecies belonging to the
bacterial familyChlamydiaceae.

From Wikipedia….

After joining E.R. Squibb & Sons (now Bristol-Myers Squibb), Hilleman developed a vaccine against Japanese B encephalitis, a disease that threatened American troops in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II. As chief of the Department of Respiratory Diseases at Army Medical Center (now the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research) from 1948 to 1958, Hilleman discovered the genetic changes that occur when the influenza virus mutates, known as shift and driftThat helped him to recognize that a 1957 outbreak of influenza in Hong Kong could become a huge pandemic. Working on a hunch, after nine 14-hour days he and a colleague found 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 deaths in the United States. Hilleman was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal from the American military for his work.”

By the end of his life, Hilleman had invented over 40 vaccines.


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