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Robbins, Frederick

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Frederick Robbins

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Frederick Robbins
(August 25, 1916 - August 4, 2003)
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1949
Revolutionized Virology - Finally Viruses Could Be Grown!

In 1949 Frederick Robbins, John Enders, and Thomas Weller, developed tissue culture techniques that revolutionized virology. Their ability to grow an endless supply of certain viruses in the laboratory made it possible for vaccines to be created for many viral diseases. Their most noted success was with the polio virus. All three were awarded the Nobel Prize for their research on it in 1954.

During the first half of the 20th century, no illness inspired more dread and panic than did polio. It came in epidemics and mainly infected children in the summer, creating great scares for parents. Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliomyelitis virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in only a few hours. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralyzed, five to ten percent die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

Before 1949 scientists had trouble growing any virus in the laboratory. Instead they had to use animals, which made investigating a virus or developing a vaccine very difficult. When Enders team, of which Robbins was a part, became able to grow the poliovirus in tissue culture, all research changed. These advances were as revolutionary as the advances in the 1880s that led to microbiology, allowing endless experiments on bacteria. Their techniques completed changed virology, making it possible to identify many new viruses as well as making it possible to make many vaccines.

Robbins was Thomas Weller's college roommate and had many roles as they developed the tissue culture techniques for growing viruses. One of the more important ones was isolating poliovirus from patients. He took patient fecal material and removed the bacteria by ultra-centrifugation and antibiotics. Doing so, he found 13 strains of poliomyelitis (four had previously been discovered). He also discovered the first member of the Echovirus group, a newly discovered viral group.

Using the Enders' team's tissue culture methods of growing the virus, Jonas Salk developed the inactivated (killed) polio vaccine in 1953. Also using their techniques, Albert Sabin created the attenuated polio vaccine that was used throughout most of the world. Mass immunization began to slow polio's spread in the 1950's, and in 1979 the last case of wild polio occurred in the United States. It has been over 20 years since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched and the number of cases has fallen by over 99% worldwide. In 2008, only four countries, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, remain polio-endemic.

While working in Enders' lab, Robbins met his wife, Alice Northrop and they were married in 1948. They enjoyed the atmosphere of the lab so much that they named one of their two daughters after Enders (Louise Enders Robbins). In May, 1952, Robbins moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was appointed Professor of Pediatrics at Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Director of the Department of Pediatrics and Contagious Diseases, Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital. He remained there till the end of his career.



Introduction by Billy Woodward


Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science biography: compilation of biographies:

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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: Polio Vaccine
John Enders
Revolutionized virology - did pivotal early polio vaccine work and developed the measles vaccine.
Thomas Weller
Came up with several breakthrough ideas in the development of tissue cell culture techniques for viruses.
Jonas Salk
Developed the first vaccine to fight against the epidemic killer polio virus, using tissue cell culture techniques pioneered by Enders.
Thomas Francis Jr
Influenza and polio vaccine - taught Jonas Salk critical vaccine development technique.
Albert Sabin
Developed the "live" polio vaccine, given on a sugar cube, used throughout the world.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science