Frank Fenner

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 01 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6850
  1. Melissa Sweet

Virologist who helped eradicate smallpox

The Australian virologist Frank Fenner once said that his proudest moment came in Geneva in 1970, when, as chairman of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication, he declared its mission accomplished. “It was a terrific thrill to be involved in a programme that in 10 years removed from the Earth a disease that, at the time we started, was credited with 20 million cases and two million deaths every year,” he said in 2002, on accepting the prime minister’s prize for science in Australia.

Fenner was also acclaimed for his scientific work on the myxoma virus, which contributed to the biological control of the rabbit plague that had decimated Australian farming land in the early 1950s. He first caught the attention of the general public with an unorthodox experiment in 1951. In an effort to reassure those anxious about the safety of releasing myxomatosis, Fenner and two colleagues injected themselves with the virus. They experienced only slight reddening at the site of the injection.

Controlling malaria

Fenner first became interested in infectious diseases while a captain and then a major in the Australian Army Medical Corps between 1940 …

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