Robert M Chanock

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 27 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6019
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. 1Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Virologist who identified key respiratory disease viruses

Like all great explorers, Robert Chanock was driven by a passion to discover. But instead of venturing out to explore the world around him, Chanock’s explorations took place deep in the microscopic world of human body tissue in search of undiscovered viruses, especially those responsible for childhood respiratory illnesses.

His first big discovery came in 1957 at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland, where he identified the human respiratory syncytial virus, the most common cause worldwide of viral infections of the lower respiratory tract in infants and children. He and colleagues subsequently discovered the four parainfluenza viruses that cause childhood respiratory diseases, and then they isolated new strains of rhinovirus and coronavirus, causes of the common cold.

Disease discovery

Already an impressive list of discoveries, but Chanock, who in 1968 was named chief of the institute’s laboratory of infectious diseases, and his team were to make many more in the years to come. Anthony S Fauci, director of the institute, noted, “When I first was learning about infectious diseases, in medical school and residency, Bob’s papers and chapters popped up everywhere. The name ‘Chanock’ seemed …

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