Thomas Huckle WellerBMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1779 (Published 22 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1779
- Ned Stafford
As virologist and parasitologist, Thomas Weller was one of the great hunters of the 20th century, his prey: disease-causing viruses able to elude scientific detection.
Co-winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing laboratory techniques to grow poliovirus, an accomplishment that paved the way for the Salk and Sabin vaccines, Weller also hunted down other important viruses, including rubella virus, varicella zoster viruses, and cytomegalovirus. He also showed that rubella virus and herpesvirus could be transmitted from mother to fetus, causing birth defects.
Weller’s quest to isolate the rubella virus illustrates the steely determination and unconventional tendencies that made him a top medical scientist. In 1960, after a series of disappointments in the hunt for the rubella virus, fate offered Weller a helping hand. His 10 year old son, Robert, fell ill with a severe case of German measles.
Franklin A Neva, who at the time was working under Weller at Harvard School of Public Health, recalls him discussing a wild idea: growing cultures with a urine sample from his son. “Most people would …