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September 2008
Vol. 18, No. 9
Your Colleagues
In Memoriam: Thomas Weller

Thomas H. Weller, MD, MS, FIDSA, Nobel laureate, vaccine pioneer, and first to isolate several viruses, passed away in his Needham, Mass. home on August 23 at age 93.

Dr. Weller shared the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with John P. Enders, MD, FIDSA, and Frederick C. Robbins, MD, FIDSA, for their research on tissue-culture methods for isolating viruses. This work led to the Sabin and Salk polio vaccines, as well as vaccines for other viral diseases.

The discovery nearest to his heart, however, was isolating varicella-zoster virus and demonstrating that it causes both chicken pox and shingles. In a July1998 supplement in Pediatrics, he wrote, “Although my work in isolating and growing the poliomyelitis 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.”

He also discovered the cytomegalovirus and shares credit for discovery of the rubella virus with Albert Sabin, MD, and others.

Dr. Weller graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1940 and was a teaching fellow there until 1942, when he entered the Army to work on malaria control in the Caribbean. He left the Army in 1946 as a major and returned to Harvard’s Children’s Hospital. There he became a founding member of the hospital’s research division of infectious diseases, and later went on to head Harvard’s department of tropical medicine, a position he held until 1981.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Dr. Weller’s awards include the Bristol Award from IDSA, the George Ledlie Prize from Harvard University, and the Walter Reed Medal from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH). He is past president of ASTMH. 

Dr. Weller is survived by his wife, Kathleen Fahey Weller; two sons, Peter and Robert; a daughter, Janet; and six grandchildren.

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