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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nobel Laureate: Max Theiler


The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1951

"for his discoveries concerning yellow fever and how to combat it"

Max Theiler (1899 - 1972) won the Noble Prize in 1951 for his work on combating yellow fever.

Theiler's most important contribution was the discovery of a variant of the yellow fever virus that did not cause the disease in humans. When injected into healthy patients, this variant produced immunity to the normal disease-producing virus.

This discovery was not immediately useful since attenuated virus from mice was more effective in producing immunity—a result also discovered by Theiler. The Nobel Committee felt that Theiler had made a significant contribution to understanding viral diseases.

One gets the impression from reading the presentation speech that Theiler was also being recognized as a representative of work done by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Nobel Laureates
The significance of Max Theiler's discovery must be considered to be very great from the practical point of view, as effective protection against yellow fever is one condition for the development of the tropical regions - an important problem in an overpopulated world. Dr. Theiler's discovery does not imply anything fundamentally new, for the idea of inoculation against a disease by the use of a variant of the etiologic agent which, though harmless, produces immunity, is more than 150 years old. Jenner used a natural virus variant, cowpox virus, against smallpox, and Pasteur produced a similar variant of the rabies virus by repeated passage through animals. So far there have been only a few successful attempts to master a disease by such measures, but Dr. Theiler's discovery gives new hope that in this manner we shall succeed in mastering other virus diseases, many of which have a devastating, effect and against which we are still entirely powerless. Max Theiler, therefore, has rendered mankind such a service as Nobel made a condition for the awarding of this prize.

Dr. Theiler. For a period of almost forty years the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation has carried on very comprehensive and fruitful work in combating yellow fever and extending our knowledge of it. Among the many who have made their contributions, you take an especially prominent place, because you have made their contributions profitable and because you have opened the way to greater understanding of the epidemiology of the disease and to an effective prophylaxis against it. The Caroline Institute esteems your research work so highly, not the least for its practical value, that it has found it proper to award this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to you.

I ask you, Dr. Theiler, to receive the prize from the hands of His Majesty, our gracious King.

[Photo Credit: ©Bettmann/CORBIS, Rights Managed, Corbis]

The images of the Nobel Prize medals are registered trademarks of the Nobel Foundation (© The Nobel Foundation). They are used here, with permission, for educational purposes only.

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