Rarely Seen: Iron Lung

Collection of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, our own Mütter Museum is preparing an exhibit entitled Rarely Seen: Hidden Collections of the Mütter Museum. Visitors will have the chance to see some rarely or never before seen items. Too large to display in the permanent museum galleries, these fascinating objects will briefly have a home in our temporary exhibit space.  Of particular interest to the History of Vaccines project is an iron lung manufactured by J.H. Emerson Co. as well as  a bacterial incubator used by Robert Austrian, MD, a pioneer researcher in pneumococcal disease and developer of the polysaccharide pneumococcal vaccine. This exhibit will be on display from October 2010 through January 2011.

Over the next few days we’ll post more pictures of the iron lung along with the tale of how it came to the Mütter Museum. More

Comments (1)Posted in:

Robert Chanock, Renowned Virologist, Dies at 86

Photomicrographic detection of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) using indirect immunofluorescence technique. CDC/ Dr. H. Craig Before Robert Chanock, MD, joined the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 1957, researchers had not identified a culprit for a constellation of serious respiratory illnesses that affected infants and children each year, particularly in the winter. Soon after Chanock joined NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious diseases, however, he and his colleagues identified and named the virus: respiratory syncytial virus. RSV, as it is commonly known, is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia among American children less than one year of age.

When asked if he had any advice for parents worried about RSV, Chanock alluded to the virus’s tendency to spread during the winter and famously quipped (though he noted that there was some truth to the remark) that parents should have their babies in the spring. Through his research efforts, however, he and his colleagues provided a better form of protection against the virus: an antibody to protect against RSV in infants at high risk for RSV illnesses.

Throughout his career, a great deal of Chanock’s research was in the field of respiratory disease. He collaborated with other researchers to discover parainfluenza viruses that cause childhood respiratory illnesses, isolate strains of the virus that causes the common cold, and isolate one of the causes of bacterial pneumonia. More

Thomas Peebles, Doctor Who Isolated Measles Virus, Dies at 89

Thin-section transmission electron micrograph (TEM) shows the ultrastructural appearance of a single virus particle, or "virion, In 1954, Thomas C. Peebles, MD, was working in the laboratory of John F. Enders, PhD, at Boston Children’s Hospital. Earlier, Enders had contributed to work on tissue culture that helped in the development of vaccines for polio; now, he wanted Peebles to focus on the measles.

During an outbreak of the disease at a private school outside of Boston, Peebles set out to isolate the measles virus. After getting permission from the school’s principal, Peebles collected blood samples from each of the sick boys at the school, telling them: “Young man, you are standing on the frontiers of science.”

On February 8, Peebles succeeded, collecting measles virus-laden blood from 13-year-old David Edmonston. This virus would eventually be used to create measles vaccines, and, the measles component of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine used today is still grown using the Edmonston strain. More

Posted in:

History of Vaccines Highlights on Facebook

What vaccine-preventable disease caused this young woman's facial disfigurement? This week The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is highlighting photographs from the History of Vaccines on its Facebook.

They’re posting a new picture and question daily. To learn the answer to each question, check back in at the end of the workday.

Today’s question and photograph (shown at left, from the historical photograph collection of the Mütter Museum) already have 27 responses.

Visit, comment, and LIKE at

Photograph property and copyright of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. May not be reproduced with permission of the College. See for details. More

Waterborne Diseases Come with a Large Pricetag

Under a moderately-high magnification of 6500X, this colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicted a scattered grouping People in developed countries don’t tend to spend much time worrying about waterborne diseases. Modern water treatment systems have drastically improved the safety of public water supplies, and if people have even heard of parasitic diseases like Cryptosporidiosis (commonly called “crypto”) or Giardiasis, they tend to think of them merely as an unpleasant bout of diarrhea–uncomfortable and inconvenient, but nothing serious.

Parasitic diseases like Crypto and Giardiasis, however, as well as bacterial illnesses like Legionnaires’ disease, can cause severe infections that lead to hospitalization and death, even in developed nations. Recently, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the annual cost of hospitalizations for cases of Legionnaires’, Crypto and Giardiasis in the United States. Using insurance claim data from 2004-2007, the researchers determined that cases of hospitalization from the three diseases may cost more than half a billion dollars annually–including both costs paid by insurance companies and costs paid out-of-pocket by patients.

Among the three, Legionnaires’ was found to have the highest annual financial toll due to hospitalization, with the total cost estimated to be between $101 and $321 million. A single inpatient hospitalization for a case of Legionnaries’ averaged more than $34,000. More

Posted in:

Researchers Study New Approach to Malaria Vaccine

This photograph depicts two Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes as the female at the top of the image was in the process of egg-laying Researchers have examined many possible approaches for vaccines against malaria, a parasitic illness spread by mosquitoes that affects hundreds of millions of people each year. One of the most promising approaches thus far has been a subunit vaccine: a vaccine candidate using this approach, RTS,S, is in late-stage clinical trials.

Researchers in Queensland, Australia have begun testing another approach, however: a vaccine that combines killed parasites with an adjuvant to boost immune response. The resulting vaccine was tested in mice, and was shown to provide long-lasting, cross-strain protection against malaria.

The group focused on developing a vaccine with the lowest possible dose of killed parasite that would still elicit a protective immune response. Their test vaccine induced a broadly reactive T cell response of the type usually generated by live, attenuated vaccines–yet with a safety profile more in line with a killed vaccine. More

New Discovery May Advance HIV Vaccine Design

This atomic level snapshot captures the antibody in the act of binding the viral site for attachment to its primary human host c HIV is a challenging target for vaccine researchers for many reasons, not the least of which is its lack of stability. The surface proteins of the virus frequently change, keeping the immune system from recognizing it–and keeping researchers from selecting a surface protein as a stable target for a vaccine.

At least one area on the surface of the virus, however, seems to remain fairly stable across all variants of HIV: a site located on the surface spikes the virus uses to bind to and infect immune cells. Now, two teams of researchers have found antibodies that attach to this site, preventing the virus from binding to immune cells, and have highlighted ways this discovery may lead to new advances in HIV vaccine designs.

The antibodies are found in the blood serum of many individuals infected with HIV. The researchers selected HIV-1 isolates encompassing all of the major circulating subtypes of the virus, and showed that these antibodies could bind to–and neutralize–more than 90% of them. That broad ability to neutralize so many variants of the virus is because of the stability of the binding site, which remains the same among nearly all strains. Therefore, a vaccine that could “train” the human immune system to generate similar antibodies could provide protection against the majority of circulating HIV variants. More

Comments (2)Posted in:

California Whooping Cough Cases Reach Epidemic Level

A post on the History of Vaccines blog earlier this month mentioned an outbreak of whooping cough in California, noting that at the time, four infants had already died from the disease. The death count has now reached five, all children less than three months of age, and the total number of confirmed cases reached 910 as of June 15th. The director of the California Department of Public Health declared in a statement that the outbreak is now an epidemic.

The most recent major outbreak of whooping cough was in 2005, when 3,182 cases were recorded in California. This year’s epidemic is on pace to surpass the number of cases from 2005. An outbreak has also been reported in Ohio, and Oregon public health officials have reportedly noted an unusually high number of cases there as well.

Whooping cough can be prevented by vaccination, but the first dose of the vaccine is not given until two months of age. Prior to that infants are highly susceptible to the disease, which is often spread by adults. A booster vaccine against whooping cough is available for adults as part of the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) immunization, which can be substituted for one tetanus or Td vaccination between the ages of 19 and 64. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends Tdap vaccination for adults who have contact with infants younger than 12 years of age. More

Experimental Marburg Vaccine Provides Post-exposure Protection

This colorized negative stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM), depicts a number of Marburg virus virions. Marburg hemor Marburg virus, like its fellow filovirus Ebola, causes hemorrhagic fever and high death rates among humans. Also like Ebola, the virus is considered a potential bioweapon and has no known treatment or cure post-infection.

Developing a vaccine capable of providing protection against diseases like Ebola and Marburg after exposure has become a priority in light of known laboratory accidents and hypothetical first-responder scenarios. In 2009, a Hamburg scientist working with Ebola-Zaire accidentally pricked herself with a contaminated needle, setting off panicked global attempts by researchers to help her. Eventually the woman, a virologist from the Bernard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, was given an experimental Ebola vaccine that had shown promise in preventing infection in monkeys when given post-exposure. She never developed the disease, although it’s not known whether the vaccine protected her from it. Prior to the Hamburg case, the previous known exposure was in 2004, in a U.S. Army researcher at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

These cases, in addition to hypothetical scenarios in which first responders may be exposed to filoviruses–coupled with the fact that no known treatment exists–have prompted efforts to further develop and test post-exposure vaccines. More

Artist Examines Aesthetic Beauty of Devastating Pathogens

E.coli. Photograph by Luke Jerram. Smallpox, HIV, influenza: the names of these pathogens usually induce fear. Smallpox, although it has been eradicated for 30 years, killed millions in its time; HIV, a relative newcomer to the human race that appeared just a few years after smallpox was eradicated, infects 7,400 people each day. Influenza presents its own unique challenges with its tendency toward frequent genetic change, requiring new seasonal flu vaccines each year and sometimes surprising us with unexpected new strains.

Artist Luke Jerram examines these and other pathogens in Infectious Beauty, an exhibit of “glass microbiology” at the Heller Gallery in New York.  In creating these pieces, according to his website, Jerram explores “the tension between the artworks’ beauty, what they represent and their impact on humanity.

Jerram consulted with virologists before designing the sculptures, which were then created by professional glassblowers. His motivation stemmed partly from dissatisfaction with the way viruses and bacteria are typically portrayed: in color, even though the electron microscope photos usually used to capture them are black and white. Jerram, who is partially colorblind, considered how artificial coloring of these pathogens affected viewers’ understanding of them. More