Ernest Goodpasture and the Mass Production of Vaccines
Even though such world leaders as Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson were advocates of vaccination as a prevention strategy, most people feared the process—and with good reason. Many attempts at immunization failed because some patients developed fatal smallpox or serious bacterial superinfections. Also, far-fetched rumors circulated about children who were stricken with mange or an “ox-faced deformity” after being inoculated with cowpox. As a result, vaccinations were not generally accepted until well into the 20th Century.
In1924, Ernest Goodpasture, M.D., was recruited to Vanderbilt University Medical School as its first chairman of Pathology. Interested in the pathology of viruses, he began to study the effect of herpes and rabies before turning his attention to fowlpox, which he preferred as a laboratory model because it did not affect humans and it produced skin lesions in chickens that could be systematically evaluated. To expand his studies, Goodpasture had to figure out a technique for obtaining large quantities of fowlpox virus in pure culture.
Solving the problem, he and his colleagues, Eugene and Alice Woodruff, developed a method for growing the virus in chicken embryos, maintaining sterile conditions while they opened the eggshell and infected the underlying membrane with fowlpox. Using this chick embryo system, they consistently produced pure cultures of fowlpox.
“That was the first time viruses had been grown in a reproducible way in a pre-antibiotic era,” says Robert Collins, M.D., professor of Pathology at Vanderbilt and author of the biography, Ernest William Goodpasture: Scientist, Scholar, Gentleman. “On the basis of his success with fowlpox, Dr. Goodpasture immediately began to work on vaccinia (like cowpox, another relative of smallpox), because he recognized the need to have a more standard vaccinating material against smallpox. He had found a relatively easy way to grow up mass quantities of infectious material in a sterile environment. This was a major accomplishment in those times before tissue culture techniques were standardized.”
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