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Maurice Hilleman, credited with saving tens of millions of lives

November 18, 2004 -- By Sarah Alexander, College of Letters & Science

College Office

The man credited with saving more lives than any other scientist in the past century, microbiologist Maurice R. Hilleman, died April 11, 2005 in Philadelphia. He was 85.

Hilleman, a Miles City native and a 1941 graduate of what was then Montana State College, credited his Montana education for part of his success. His dual major in microbiology and chemistry eased his entry into the University of Chicago for graduate studies. There he found that his background was extensive enough for him to cut off two of the five years needed to get a Ph.D.

In a talk he gave at the Museum of the Rockies in September, 2000, Hilleman said, "I would say to you that you have much to be proud of here at MSU."

Dr. Hilleman and his team at Merck & Company developed about three dozen experimental and licensed animal and human vaccines, including 8 of the 14 routinely given to young children in the U.S. today. His work is credited by scientists for virtually wiping out many of the dreaded and deadly childhood diseases that remained common just 40 years ago. His MMR vaccine protects children against three different diseases—
measles, mumps, and rubella.

The World Health Organization and many other organizations have honored his work, as did former President Ronald Reagan, who awarded Hilleman the National Medal of Science in 1988.

In an article on his death, the The Times (U.K.) declared that Hilleman "did as much for the human race as any medical scientist of the 20th century. He saved tens of millions of lives, and preserved the health of yet more millions around the globe."

Updated: 04/15/2011