Enders, John Franklin

John Franklin Enders (1897-1985) was born in Connecticut and graduated from Yale University in 1920. After beginning a career as a real estate agent, Enders decided that business was not for him. He enrolled at Harvard University, completing a master's degree in English literature. While pursuing further graduate studies, a roommate introduced him to Hans Zinsser (1878-1940), a well-known microbiologist who was head of Harvard's Department of Bacteriology and Immunology. Zinsser's enthusiasm for scientific pursuits was so contagious that Enders abandoned his liberal arts studies in favor of medical research.

After receiving a doctorate from Harvard in 1930, Enders began research on how the immune system fights bacterial disease. In 1937, however, he became intrigued with the problem of viruses, a much smaller microorganism. During this time, the study of viruses was restricted by microscopes not powerful enough to see these small organisms, and by the fact that viruses can grow only in live tissue. The live tissue problem led Enders to work in the improving tissue culture techniques to provide material for vaccines.

World War II (1939-1945) interrupted his work. By 1947, however, Enders, Thomas Weller and Frederick C. Robbins, (Weller's medical school roommate) were at Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, growing the mumps virus in cultures of chicken cells. Weller had been working on chicken pox viruses while Robbins was trying to isolate the virus that causes infantile epidemic diarrhea. Together, this team developed better tissue cultures for mumps, chicken pox, polio viruses.

Techniques the three researchers developed for the growing polio virus were essential to the later development of the life-saving vaccines of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. For this innovation, Enders, Weller and Robbins received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1954. Enders continued working in the area of virus cultures and successfully grew the measles virus which was used in the first measles vaccine. After retirement from Harvard, Enders kept an active interest in virology and at the time of his death was studying the AIDS virus.

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