(August 25, 1916 - August 4, 2003)
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1949
Learning to Grow Viruses Revolutionized Virology & Led to Vaccines!
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 infect animals to grow them, which made investigating a virus or developing a vaccine very difficult. When Enders team, of which Robbins was a part, learned to grow the poliovirus in tissue culture by methods they perfected to make test tubes mimic animals, all research changed. These advances were as revolutionary as the advances in the 1880s that led to microbiology, allowing endless experiments on bacteria. In the same way, their work allowed endless experiments on viruses. 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. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988 and the number of cases has fallen by over 99% worldwide. In 2021, only two countries still have wild polio, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When their research successfully ended, in 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.
Written by science writer, Billy Woodward
While working in Enders' lab, Robbins met his wife, Alice Northrop, a lab tech 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.
Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin became famous for developing the polio vaccine, but Frederick Robbins, Thomas Weller, and John Enders earned scientists' recognition, receiving the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1954.
Vaccines are Ubiquitous & Omnipresent Throughout Our Lives
It is bizarre that vaccines are controversial, when virtually everyone has had vaccines. The average person born today may get 70+ vaccines in their lifetime.
- There are 31 childhood vaccines (counting booster shots). Over 90% of people have received some of these vaccines.
Virtually everyone constantly benefits from vaccines
- Did you know that all beef, poultry, and pork you eat comes from vaccinated animals?
- And that all horses, dogs, cats, and zoo animals are vaccinated?
- Who wants to live in a world where you can’t pet your friends’ dog because it may not have been vaccinated, and may have rabies?
Frederick Robbins' Nobel Prize Biography
Frederick Robbin's Wikipedia page