Maurice Hilleman

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Maurice Ralph Hilleman
Hilleman c.1958, as chief of the Dept. of Virus Diseases, Walter Reed Army Medical Center
BornAugust 30, 1919
DiedApril 11, 2005(2005-04-11) (aged 85)
Occupation Microbiologist, vaccinologist
Known forDeveloping several important vaccines
Spouse(s)Thelma Hilleman (19441962, her death)
Lorraine Hilleman (19632005, his death)

Maurice Ralph Hilleman (August 30, 1919 – April 11, 2005) was an American microbiologist who specialized in vaccinology and developed over 40 vaccines, an unparalleled record of productivity. [1] [2] Of the 14 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. [1] He also played a role in the discovery of the cold-producing adenoviruses, the hepatitis viruses, and the cancer-causing[ citation needed ] virus SV40.

Microbiologist person who investigates the characteristics of microscopic organisms

A microbiologist is a scientist who studies microscopic life forms and processes. This includes study of the growth, interactions and characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites and their vectors. Most microbiologists work in offices and/or research facilities, both in private biotechnology companies as well as in academia. Most microbiologists specialize in a given topic within microbiology such as bacteriology, parasitology, virology, or immunology.

Vaccine biological preparatory medicine that improves immunity to a particular disease

A vaccine is a biological preparation that provides active acquired immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins, or one of its surface proteins. The agent stimulates the body's immune system to recognize the agent as a threat, destroy it, and to further recognize and destroy any of the microorganisms associated with that agent that it may encounter in the future. Vaccines can be prophylactic, or therapeutic.

Measles Viral disease affecting humans

Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the measles virus. Symptoms usually develop 10–12 days after exposure to an infected person and last 7–10 days. Initial symptoms typically include fever, often greater than 40 °C (104.0 °F), cough, runny nose, and inflamed eyes. Small white spots known as Koplik's spots may form inside the mouth two or three days after the start of symptoms. A red, flat rash which usually starts on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body typically begins three to five days after the start of symptoms. Common complications include diarrhea, middle ear infection (7%), and pneumonia (6%). Less commonly seizures, blindness, or inflammation of the brain may occur. Other names include morbilli, rubeola, red measles, and English measles. Rubella, which is sometimes called German measles, and roseola are different diseases caused by unrelated viruses.


He is credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century. [3] [4] [5] Robert Gallo described him as "the most successful vaccinologist in history". [3]

Robert Gallo American biomedical researcher

Robert Charles Gallo is an American biomedical researcher. He is best known for his role in the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the infectious agent responsible for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and in the development of the HIV blood test, and he has been a major contributor to subsequent HIV research.


Early life and education

Hilleman was born on a farm near the high plains town of Miles City, Montana. His parents were Anna and Gustav Hillemann, and he was their eighth child. His twin sister died when he was born, and his mother died two days later. He was raised in the nearby household of his uncle, Robert Hilleman, and worked in his youth on the family farm. He credited much of his success to his work with chickens as a boy; since in the 1930s fertile chicken eggs had often been used to grow viruses for vaccines. [1]

Great Plains broad expanse of flat land west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada

The Great Plains is the broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, that lies west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:

Miles City, Montana City in Montana, United States

Miles City is a city in and the county seat of Custer County, Montana, United States. The population was 8,410 at the 2010 census.

Chicken domesticated bird, primarily a source of food or food

The chicken is a type of domesticated fowl, a subspecies of the red junglefowl. It is one of the most common and widespread domestic animals, with a total population of more than 19 billion as of 2011. There are more chickens in the world than any other bird or domesticated fowl. Humans keep chickens primarily as a source of food and, less commonly, as pets. Originally raised for cockfighting or for special ceremonies, chickens were not kept for food until the Hellenistic period.

His family belonged to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. When he was in the eighth grade, he discovered Charles Darwin, and was caught reading On the Origin of Species in church. Later in life, he rejected religion. [6] Due to lack of money, he almost failed to attend college. His eldest brother interceded, and Hilleman graduated first in his class in 1941 from Montana State University with family help and scholarships. He won a fellowship to the University of Chicago and received his doctoral degree in microbiology in 1944. [7] His doctoral thesis was on chlamydia infections, which were then thought to be caused by a virus. Hilleman showed that these infections were, in fact, caused by a species of bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis , that grows only inside of cells. [1]

Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod traditional, confessional Lutheran Christian denomination in the United States

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), often referred to simply as the Missouri Synod, is a traditional, confessional Lutheran denomination in the United States. With 2.0 million members, it is the second-largest Lutheran body in the U.S., the largest being Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The LCMS was organized in 1847 at a meeting in Chicago, Illinois, as the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, a name which reflected the geographic locations of the founding congregations.

Charles Darwin British naturalist, author of "On the origin of species, by means of natural selection"

Charles Robert Darwin, was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. His proposition that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors is now widely accepted, and considered a foundational concept in science. In a joint publication with Alfred Russel Wallace, he introduced his scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in selective breeding.

<i>On the Origin of Species</i> A work of scientific literature by Charles Darwin which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology

On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature by Charles Darwin which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Darwin's book introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. It presented a body of evidence that the diversity of life arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution. Darwin included evidence that he had gathered on the Beagle expedition in the 1830s and his subsequent findings from research, correspondence, and experimentation.


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 1957, Hilleman discovered the genetic changes that occur when the influenza virus mutates, known as shift and drift . That 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[ citation needed ]. 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.

Bristol-Myers Squibb company

Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS) is an American pharmaceutical company, headquartered in New York City.

Pacific Ocean theater of World War II

The Pacific Ocean theater, during World War II, was a major theater of the war between the Allies and the Empire of Japan. It was defined by the Allied powers' Pacific Ocean Area command, which included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands, while mainland Asia was excluded, as were the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, Australia, most of the Territory of New Guinea and the western part of the Solomon Islands.

Army Medical School

Founded by U.S. Army Brigadier General George Miller Sternberg, MD in 1893, the Army Medical School (AMS) was by some reckonings the world's first school of public health and preventive medicine. The AMS ultimately became the Army Medical Center (1923), then the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (1953).

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 with which he is credited, working both at the laboratory bench as well as providing scientific leadership.

Merck & Co., Inc., d.b.a. Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) outside the United States and Canada, is an American pharmaceutical company and one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Whitehouse Station, New Jersey Census-designated place in New Jersey, United States

Whitehouse Station is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) located within Readington Township, in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, United States. At the 2010 United States Census, the CDP's population was 2,089. Whitehouse Station takes its name from Whitehouse and Abraham Van Horne's 18th century tavern.

Virus Type of non-cellular infectious agent

A virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea.

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 (measles, mumps and rubella) MMR vaccine that he also developed, the first vaccine ever approved incorporating multiple live virus strains.

He and his group invented [1] a vaccine for hepatitis B by treating blood serum with pepsin, urea and formaldehyde. This was licensed in 1981, but withdrawn in 1986 in the United States when it was replaced by a vaccine that was produced in yeast. This vaccine is still in use today. By 2003, 150 countries were using it and the incidence of the disease in the United States in young people had decreased by 95%. Hilleman considered his work on this vaccine to be his single greatest achievement.

Hilleman was one of the early vaccine pioneers to warn about the possibility that simian viruses might contaminate vaccines. [8] The best-known of these viruses became SV40, a viral contaminant of the polio vaccine, whose discovery led to the recall of Salk's vaccine in 1961 and its replacement with Albert Sabin's oral vaccine. The contamination actually occurred in both vaccines at very low levels, but because the oral vaccine was ingested rather than injected, it did not result in infections or any harm.

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 Organization. He retired as senior vice president of the Merck Research Labs in 1984 at the mandatory retirement age of 65. He then directed the newly created Merck Institute for Vaccinology where he worked for the next twenty years.

At the time of his death on April 11, 2005, at the age of 85, Hilleman was Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Method and personality

Hilleman was a forceful man who was at the same time modest in his claims. None of his vaccines or discoveries are named after him. He ran his laboratory like a military unit, and he was the one in command. For a time, he kept a row of "shrunken heads" (actually fakes made by one of his children) in his office as trophies that represented each of his fired employees. He used profanity and tirades freely to drive his arguments home, and once, famously, refused to attend a mandatory "charm school" course intended to make Merck middle managers more civil. His employees were fiercely loyal to him. [1] :128–131


Hilleman was an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Science, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor. He received the Prince Mahidol Award from the King of Thailand for the advancement of public health, as well as a special lifetime achievement award from the World Health Organization, the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service and the Sabin Gold Medal and Lifetime Achievement Awards.

In March 2005 the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in collaboration with The Merck Company Foundation, announced the creation of The Maurice R. Hilleman Chair in Vaccinology.

Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, once said "If I had to name a person who has done more for the benefit of human health, with less recognition than anyone else, it would be Maurice Hilleman. Maurice should be recognized as the most successful vaccinologist in history." [3]

After Hilleman's death Ralph Nader wrote, "Yet almost no one knew about him, saw him on television, or read about him in newspapers or magazines. His anonymity, in comparison with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jose Canseco, or an assortment of grade B actors, tells something about our society's and media's concepts of celebrity; much less of the heroic." [9]

In 2007, Paul Offit published a biography of Hilleman, entitled Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases. [1]

On 15 October 2008, Merck named its Maurice R. Hilleman Center for Vaccine Manufacturing, in Durham, North Carolina, in memory of Hilleman. [10]

A documentary film titled Hilleman: A Perilous Quest to Save the World's Children , chronicling Hilleman's life and career, was released in 2016 by Medical History Pictures, Inc. [11]

Hilleman Scholars Program

In 2016, Montana State University dedicated a series of scholarships in memory of its alumnus Hilleman, called the Hilleman Scholars Program, [12] for incoming students who "commit to work at their education beyond ordinary expectations and help future scholars that come after them." [13]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Offit, Paul A. (2007). Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases. Washington, DC: Smithsonian. ISBN   0-06-122796-X.
  2. Maurice Hilleman (Obituary) The Telegraph, 14 Apr 2005
  3. 1 2 3 Maugh, Thomas H. II (2005-04-13). "Maurice R. Hilleman, 85; Scientist Developed Many Vaccines That Saved Millions of Lives". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-20.
  4. Sullivan P (2005-04-13). "Maurice R. Hilleman dies; created vaccines". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
  5. Johnson LA (2005-04-12). "Maurice Hilleman, at 85; was pioneer in vaccine research". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
  6. "Maurice Hilleman". The Independent . 19 April 2005. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  7. "Maurice Hilleman". BMJ. 330 (7498): 1028. doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7498.1028. PMC   557162 .
  8. Bookchin D, Schumacher J (2004). The Virus and the Vaccine. St. Martin's Press. pp. 94–98. ISBN   0-312-27872-1.
  9. Nader, Ralph (16 April 2005). "Scientists or Celebrities?". CounterPunch . Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  10. "Merck & Co., Inc., Dedicates Durham Vaccine Manufacturing Facility in Honor of Merck Scientist Maurice R. Hilleman, Ph.D." Business Wire . Berkshire Hathaway. 15 October 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  11. "Hilleman – A Perilous Quest to Save the World's Children". Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia . Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  12. "MSU Hilleman Scholars Program". Montana State University . Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  13. MSU News Service. "MSU inaugurates Hilleman Scholars Program for Montanans in honor of world's most famous vaccinologist". Montana State University. Retrieved 6 December 2017.

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