|by Annette Trinity-Stevens
The man credited with developing more vaccines than any other person admitted to a little help
from his oldest daughter, whose name became associated with the injection that prevents kids
from getting the mumps.
Maurice Hilleman, currently director of the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research in
Pennsylvania, took the mumps virus from his oldest daughter, Jeryl Lynn, and developed a vaccine
in time to prevent his next daughter from contracting the once-common childhood infection.
That was in 1963, and Hilleman, a Miles City native, had already made major breakthroughs on
influenza vaccines and helped avert what could have been an influenza pandemic in 1957.
A 1941 graduate of what was then Montana State College, Hilleman was in Bozeman Sept. 21 to
lecture on the history of vaccines at the Museum of the Rockies. The lecture was sponsored by
Ligocyte Pharmaceuticals, Inc., of Bozeman and MSU.
"He has made major contributions to science...he has made an incredible contribution to human
health," MSU scientist Mark Jutila said in introducing Hilleman.
Hilleman's five decades of work have led to vaccines not only for mumps and influenza but also
for measles, rubella, the combination vaccine called MMR, varicella (for chickenpox), Marek's
disease (of chickens), hepatitis A and B and a group of respiratory viruses called adenoviruses.
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.
The science of vaccines began in the 1700s when a British scientist named Jenner noticed that
milkmaids who got cowpox did not get smallpox. Jenner took pus from cowpox lesions and injected
it into children to protect them from the deadly smallpox.
"They'd put him in jail for that today," Hilleman quipped.
Tall and softspoken, Hilleman said his first assignment while at the Walter Reed Army Institute
of Research was an influenza vaccine. He discovered that influenza viruses change, a phenomenon
now called "shift and drift." That meant a single vaccine wouldn't protect against the many
variations of the disease.
He detected the 1957 influenza in Hong Kong in time for the institute to make 40 million doses
of vaccine and avert a pandemic.
"That has never been accomplished again in that time," he said.
But it was while working on a measles vaccine some years later that Hilleman learned the value
of his Montana connections. He had to find leukemia-free chickens whose cells could be used to
grow the vaccine. Hilleman heard some disease-free chickens were available in California, but
when he got there the lab manager refused to sell any.
Hilleman asked for the man's boss, who also refused to sell the chickens. As they talked, the
boss commented on Hilleman's "accent" and asked where he was from.
"Miles City," came the reply. The lab boss also was from Montana.
"He said, 'Take all the chickens you want'," Hilleman recalled. "I'll tell you. I learned that
Montana blood runs thick."
Measles now is the next candidate for worldwide eradication following polio, Hilleman said.
Synthetic vaccines may be possible in the future as well as edible vaccines made by plants.
The next major disease targets are tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS.
Annette Trinity-Stevens is the MSU Research Editor.