VZVRF Scientific Achievement Award

The VZVRF Scientific Achievement Award was established to honor scientists who have made significant contributions to the study of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Recipients of the award to date are:

2001: Anne A. Gershon, M.D.
, a professor of pediatrics of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, who was honored for her important work in all aspects of VZV research, from cell biology and pathogenesis, to clinical infection and prevention. Dr. Gershon also played a key role in the founding of VZVRF.

1999: R. Edgar Hope-Simpson, OBE, FRCP, a British general practitioner who refined the theory that shingles is caused by a reactivation of dormant varicella virus, and hypothesized that the increased incidence and severity of shingles in older people is the result of declining VZV immunity.

1997: Michiaki Takahashi, M.D., D.M.Sc., professor emeritus of Osaka University, who developed the chickenpox vaccine.

1995: Gertrude B. Elion, D.Sc., scientist emeritus at Glaxo Wellcome Inc. and a 1988 Nobel Laureate, whose research led to the creation of the first antiviral therapy for shingles.

1993: Thomas H. Weller, M.D., professor emeritus at Harvard School of Public Health and a 1954 Nobel Laureate, who first isolated the varicella-zoster virus.

-Anne Gershon Receives Achievement Award
- British GP Honored for Pivotal Shingles Research
- What If Chickenpox Could Be Prevented By A Vaccine?
- In Memoriam: Gertrude B. Elion, D.Sc.
- A Preeminent Virologist: Nobel Laureate Thomas H. Weller, M.D.

Anne Gershon Receives Achievement Award

On March 4, 2001, at the VZVRF’s 10th Anniversary Dinner in La Jolla, VZVRF Chairman Richard T. Perkin announced that the fifth recipient of this prestigious award was Anne A. Gershon, M.D. Dr. Gershon is professor of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She also chairs the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board.
In his remarks, Mr. Perkin cited Dr. Gershon’s "pivotal role" in the formation of the Foundation. He also noted that she "is regarded by her peers, the ultimate judges, as one of the preeminent scientists in the field of VZV."
Joining Mr. Perkin in this presentation was the third recipient of the Scientific Achievement Award, Michiaki Takahashi, M.D., D.M.Sc., professor emeritus of Osaka University, Japan. Dr. Takahashi, the developer of the chickenpox vaccine, highlighted Dr. Gershon’s key role in fostering the development of the vaccine and "her humanity." Philip LaRussa, M.D., professor of Pediatrics at Columbia, discussed her important research in all aspects of VZV, including cell biology, pathogenesis, clinical infection and prevention. He also praised her for her mentorship of a generation of scientists and clinicians.

British GP Honored for Pivotal Shingles Research

VZVRF Chairman Richard T. Perkin with Dr. R. Edgar Hope-Simpson

Ask any leading researcher in the field of VZV to name the definitive paper on VZV research and he or she will respond, "The Nature of Herpes Zoster: A Long Term Study and a New Hypothesis," published in 1965 by R. Edgar Hope-Simpson, OBE, FRCP, a general practitioner in Cirencester in the United Kingdom. For this and other lasting contributions to VZV research, Dr. Hope-Simpson, 91, became the fourth recipient of the VZVRF Scientific Achievement Award on February 12, 1999.

At least two major concepts about the varicella-zoster virus are directly attributable to Dr. Hope-Simpson. First, he refined the theory that shingles is caused by a reactivation of dormant varicella virus. Second, he hypothesized that the increased incidence and severity of shingles in older people is the result of declining VZV immunity.

Dr. Hope-Simpson dedicated his life's work to epidemiological studies of infectious diseases, most notably shingles and its painful aftermath, post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). He was born in 1908 and graduated from St. Thomas Hospital in London in 1932. In 1947, he established his second practice in Cirencester, which provided him with a 3,500-patient base for his research.

With no formal training in research or epidemiology, Dr. Hope-Simpson arrived at his conclusions about VZV following meticulous observation and tracking of every case of shingles and chickenpox among his patients over an 18-year period. In total, Dr. Hope-Simpson authored more than 80 papers on infectious disease epidemiology. Another of his important scientific papers emphasized the suffering experienced by shingles patients, including acute and chronic pain and depression.

Dr. Hope-Simpson was the first chairman and founding member of the College of General Practitioners. He is the recipient of many awards and was honored by Queen Elizabeth with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services in Public Health Medicine.

"What If Chickenpox Could Be Prevented By A Vaccine?"

Pictured: (l. to r.) VZVRF Chairman Richard T. Perkin;VZVRF SAB Chair Anne A. Gerhon, M.D.; Michiaki Takahashi, M.D., D.M.Sc.; Gertrude B. Elion, D.Sc.; and Thomas H. Weller, M.D.

In 1964, during his research fellowship at Baylor Medical College in Houston, Michiaki Takahashi, M.D., D.M.Sc., recalls that his three-year-old son was suffering from a severe case of chickenpox. He remembers asking himself, What if chickenpox could be prevented by a vaccine?"

Eight years later, Dr. Takahashi began development of a live varicella vaccine.

Dr. Takahashi earned his M.D. degree from Osaka University Medical School in Japan. He then became involved in the development of a measles vaccine at the University's Institute for Microbial Diseases. After serving as a Research Fellow at Baylor and, later, Temple University in Philadelphia, he returned to Osaka University to study adenovirus and herpes simplex virus from the viewpoint of cellular transformation by these viruses. In conjunction with these studies, he collaborated on the development of a live mumps and rubella vaccine. He then began working on the live varicella vaccine.

According to Dr. Takahashi, "The varicella-zoster virus is one of the most difficult viruses to study because of its poor cell-free virus yield and heat-labile property."

Dr. Takahashi overcame these difficulties and developed the vaccine in 1974, with the "willing collaboration of many pediatric researchers in Japan." He also credits the encouragement of VZVRF Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) Chair Anne A. Gershon, M.D., and Saul Krugman, M.D., then of New York University Medical Center, as instrumental in "furthering progress on the vaccine."

In March 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the country's first chickenpox vaccine for use in children and adults who have not had chickenpox.

Dr. Takahashi currently is the director of The Foundation for Microbial Diseases of Osaka University. Previously, he was a professor of virology at Osaka University. He is also a member of the VZV Research Foundation's SAB.

"I sincerely hope that in the near future, the varicella vaccine is helpful in saving many children from severe chickenpox," said Dr. Takahashi.

In Memoriam: Gertrude B. Elion, D.Sc.

Gertrude B. Elion, D.Sc., a Nobel Laureate and the second recipient of the VZVRF Scientific Achievement Award, died at the age of 81 on February 21, 1999.

Dr. Elion was honored by the Foundation in 1995 for her "pioneering work in antiviral therapy," specifically, VZV research. She was instrumental in the development of antiviral therapy for shingles.

In 1988, she and her colleagues George Hitchings, Ph.D., and Sir James Black, were awarded the Nobel Prize for their research leading to drugs for leukemia, gout, malaria, shingles and other diseases of the immune system, in addition to drugs that eventually made organ transplants possible. Their scientific collaboration also led to the development of AZT for AIDS.

Dr. Elion was a scientist emeritus at Glaxo Wellcome Inc., where she had served as head of the Department of Experimental Therapy. She was the recipient of more than 35 honors and awards, including the National Medal of Science, the Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society and the Judd Award from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute. She received her master's degree in chemistry from New York University in 1941 and held honorary doctorates from 20 universities.

A Preeminent Virologist: Nobel Laureate Thomas H. Weller, M.D.

"In 1949, there appeared from a Boston research team a paper, modest in size and wording, but with a sensational content. John Enders, Thomas Weller and Frederick Robbins reported the successful cultivation of the poliomyelitis virus in test-tube cultures of human tissues. A new epoch in the history of virus research had started."

These remarks by Professor S. Gard of the Royal Caroline Institute were followed by the presentation of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 1954 to Drs. Enders, Weller and Robbins.

But, as a youth growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Thomas Weller was fascinated with natural history.

My father was very interested in nature, especially in birds. I lived on the same block with the curator of fishes and the curator of entomology and of reptiles. And I had a pet crow that would follow me from tree to tree and then fly back home.

At the University of Michigan, he seemed to be heading in the direction of medical zoology. In fact, he spent two summers at the University's Biological Station working on the parasites of fish. But, in 1936, although times were tough, his father agreed that he should go to medical school.

I looked at Penn, Johns Hopkins and Harvard. My reasons for choosing Harvard included the fact that tuition was $400 per year, one or two hundred less than Hopkins.

At Harvard, Thomas Weller became interested in general infectious diseases. After learning that Dr. John F. Enders was working on tissue-culture techniques as a means of studying the causes of infectious diseases, he elected, as a fourth-year student, to do a research project with Dr. Enders.

In 1940, he earned his M.D. degree, and began his clinical training at Children's Hospital in Boston. Two years later, he joined the Army Medical Corps. Stationed in Puerto Rico for nearly three years, he gained tremendous experience in the field of tropical diseases.

In 1947, I was able to return to the problem of growing viruses in cultures of human tissues as Dr. Enders and I developed a laboratory at Children's Hospital for virus research. In 1949, we reported the isolation and growth of the poliomyelitis virus in tissue cultures. I was successful in growing in cell cultures, mumps, Coxsackie, varicella, cytomegalovirus, and rubella viruses. These findings popularized the use of tissue cultures for the study of viruses and the field of virology underwent a scientific explosion.

In fact, Dr. Weller was the first scientist to isolate the viruses responsible for varicella and herpes zoster, and he obtained evidence that the same virus was responsible for both infections.

The isolation of the varicella-zoster virus led to many, other important discoveries in VZV research, including Dr. Michiaki Takahashi's development of the varicella vaccine.

Although my work in isolating and growing the poliomyelytis virus in tissue cultures was the most significant contribution I have made to medical science in terms of global impact, I am most proud of my work with the varicella-zoster virus. It's something I planned to do and worked for years to do. In fact, I obtained one of the first strains of varicella virus from my older son.

Dr. Weller retired from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1985 as the Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Tropical Public Health. He and his wife, Kathleen, have two sons and one daughter; a second daughter is deceased.

Since we were married in 1945, my wife has been with me every step of the way. She's polished every paper I've written. She's a good editor.

As he continues working on his much-anticipated autobiography, Dr. Weller is, no doubt, putting Mrs. Weller's editing skills to the test once again.

*Excerpted from "Infectious Diseases and Public Health," by Thomas H. Weller, M.D., PEDIATRICS, Vol. 102, No. , July 1998, Pp. 284-285.