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 VZVRFs 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 Foundations Scientific Advisory Board.
In his remarks, Mr.
Perkin cited Dr. Gershons "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. Gershons 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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.