– August 11
) was a South African
. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
in 1951 for developing a vaccine for yellow fever
Theiler was born in Pretoria
, South Africa, his father Arnold Theiler
was a veterinary bacteriologist. He attended Pretoria Boys High School
, Rhodes University College
, and then University of Cape Town
Medical School graduating in 1918. He left South Africa to study at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School
, King's College London
, and at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
. In 1922 he was awarded a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene and became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians
of London and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
. Theiler wanted to pursue a career in research, so in 1922 he took a position at the Harvard University
School of Tropical Medicine. He spent several years investigating amoebic dysentery
and trying to develop a vaccine from rat-bite fever
. He became assistant to Andrew Sellards and started working on yellow fever
. In 1926 they disproved Hideyo Noguchi
that yellow fever was caused by the bacterium Leptospira icteroides
, and in 1928 the year after the disease was identified conclusively as a virus
, they showed that the African and South American viruses are immunologically identical, after Adrian Stokes induced yellow fever in Rhesus monkeys
from India. In the course of this research Theiler himself contracted yellow fever but survived and developed immunity.
In 1930 Theiler moved to the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, where he later became director of the Virus Laboratory and where he spent the rest of his career.
Work on yellow fever
After passing the yellow fever virus through laboratory mice, Theiler found that the weakened virus conferred immunity on Rhesus monkeys. The stage was thus set for Theiler to develop a vaccine against the disease. However, it was only in 1937, after the particularly virulent Asibi strain from West Africa
had gone through more than a hundred subcultures, that Theiler and his colleague Hugh Smith announced the development of the 17-D vaccine. Between 1940 and 1947 the Rockefeller Foundation produced more than 28 million doses of the vaccine and finally ended yellow fever as a major disease. For this work Theiler received the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Theiler was awarded the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene's Chalmers Medal in 1939, Harvard University's Flattery Medal in 1945, and the American Public Health Association's Lasker Award in 1949.
He married Lillian Graham in 1928 and they had one daughter. He died in New Haven, Connecticut
Max Theiler was a contributor to two books, Viral and Rickettsial Infections of Man
(1948) and Yellow Fever
(1951). He wrote numerous papers in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine
and Annals of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology
- Charles, C.W., Jr. Theiler, Max. American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
- Theiler, Max: A Dictionary of Scientists. Oxford University Press, 1999.