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June 5, 1921 - July 8, 2010
Born in Newton, Massachusetts
Year of Discovery: 1958
Crucial Member of the Measles Vaccine Team: Isolated the Virus
In 1954 Thomas Peebles was a young research assistant in Pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Boston. He was approached by Dr. John F. Enders, a Harvard virologist, with an intriguing proposition - would he be interested in joining Enders to work on isolating the measles virus? Peebles jumped at the chance. His first challenge was to obtain active cultures of the virus. He enlisted the help of students at a nearby school who were suffering from measles. But, the cultures turned up nothing more significant than cold sore viruses. So, Peebles asked a colleague, a mathematician, if he could take a culture from the throat of his eleven-year-old son, David Edmonston who was suffering from measles at the time. This time, he was successful and the "Edmonston strain" became the foundation for the development of the measles vaccine. Peebles worked with several others, under Ender's direction, over the following four years to develop the vaccine that was effective against measles.
Measles is caused by a virus and is one of the most contagious diseases known. The virus normally grows in the cells lining the back of the throat and those lining the lungs. The first sign of infection is a high fever lasting one to seven days. During this initial stage the patient may develop multiple symptoms, including a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks. A rash develops after several days, typically beginning on the face and upper neck, and then spreading to the hands and feet. Poorly nourished children are at an increased risk of contracting a severe case of measles, especially those who have a vitamin A deficiency or whose immune system is compromised. Childhood deaths are usually caused by the complications associated with measles, rather than by the disease itself. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, ear infections and severe respiratory infections--such as pneumonia, which is the most common cause of death associated with measles. Despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine for the past several decades, measles continues to be a leading cause of death among children in the developing world. It's estimated that 242,000 people, many of them children, died from measles in 2006. But, vaccination has played a major role, with an estimated 478 million children having received the measles vaccine between 2000 and 2006. As a result, there has been a significant reduction in estimated global measles' deaths. Overall, global measles mortality decreased by 68% between 2000 and 2006, with the largest decreases occurring in Africa, where measles cases and deaths fell by 91%.
Peebles worked with a team of close to twenty scientists in his pursuit of a measles vaccine. The researchers cultured the virus in multiple mediums, over several years, before finally finding a vaccine that worked effectively.
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Time Magazine article referencing Peebles work with Enders against measles:
CDC measles history section referencing Peebles:
Pediatric Research article referencing Peebles work on the measles vaccine:
Link to obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/05/health/05peebles.html?_r=1&
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