Dr. Samuel Katz, the renowned virologist who was part of the research team that developed the measles vaccine, died recently at the age of 95. His pioneering work has saved countless children’s lives.
Born in New Hampshire to Morris and Ethel Katz, Samuel went to Dartmouth College in 1944, when he was 17. His first interest was journalism, and while serving in the Navy he received hospital training, an experience that turned his passion into medicine.
He earned a bachelor of medical science degree from Dartmouth in 1950 and graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School. During his residency at a children’s hospital in Boston, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, he worked in the polio wards where he witnessed the devastation of the disease firsthand. In 1955, he also witnessed an astonishing event: the Salk vaccine against poliomyelitis effectively eradicating the scourge of childhood, a scourge that also affected adults, including an American president.
The young doctor knew then that his passion was to study infectious diseases and perhaps contribute to the next vaccine that will change the world.
Shortly after his stint in polio units, Dr. Katz joined the distinguished laboratory team of Nobel laureate Dr. John Enders, whose research was the basis for the development of the polio vaccine. polio.
His son, John Katz, said: “My dad felt like this was an area where he could do some good – there were so many other diseases that didn’t have vaccines yet.”
“My dad felt like this was an area where he could do some good – there were so many other diseases that didn’t have vaccines yet.”
The measles virus had previously been isolated from a 13-year-old local schoolboy, David Edmonston. The challenge was to find a way to make an “attenuated,” or weakened, virus to create a vaccine that would be both safe and fully effective.
“And indeed, we went to embryonated chicken eggs,” Dr. Katz said in a 2014 interview for the Open Forum Infectious Diseases podcast. The ‘Edmonton virus’, as it was called, passed through chicken embryos more than a dozen times, reducing its strength. The team, along with Yugoslav researcher Milan Milovanovic, then injected rhesus monkeys.
The results? The monkeys showed none of the classic symptoms, such as fever and rash, or viremia, the presence of the virus in the blood. But the monkeys had antibodies.
“So we were on our way,” Dr. Katz said.
Next human test. Although somewhat controversial, this process was essential to the development of the attenuated vaccine. Enders’ team used Walter E. Fernald State School in Waltham, Mass., a facility for children with severe neurological disorders. Dr Katz said parental consent was given for all 20 chosen patients.
“We injected these youngsters with the chicken cell virus and observed them daily,” Dr. Katz said in the podcast. “We did throat cultures. We did blood cultures. And they never had viremia, they never had virus in their throat. … So we had taken the plunge.
The New England Journal of Medicine published the results in 1961, and there was a huge response and inquiries. Among them was the correspondence of the British pediatrician, Dr David Morely, in Nigeria. He called for expanding measles vaccination testing in Nigeria, where the death rate from the disease was as high as 15%.
Dr. Katz’s work in Nigeria has produced important information for global immunization, including how infants with measles often stopped breastfeeding due to mouth sores and became severely dehydrated. Simple hydration treatments have been added to measles vaccination regimens in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Because these vaccines are so similar to the natural infection they help prevent, they create a strong and long-lasting immune response. Just 1 or 2 doses of most live vaccines can give you lifelong protection against a germ and the disease it causes.
A research associate at the lab in 1958, Dr. Katz retained that title for the next decade, during which time he also served as a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Katz left Harvard for Duke University School of Medicine in 1968. As chairman of its pediatrics department for 22 years, he helped elevate its national reputation.
At Duke, continuing his work, he served as Wilburt C. Davison Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine.
Visionary researcher and innovator
In addition to measles, Dr. Katz has been involved in studies on vaccinia, poliomyelitis, rubella, influenza, whooping cough, haemophilus influenzae b conjugates, HIV.
The indomitable Dr. Katz left the leadership of Duke’s Department of Pediatrics in 1990 to work with his second wife, the remarkable Dr. Catherine Wilfert, HIV/AIDS researcher, activist and professor of pediatrics at Duke Medical School. She was the principal investigator of a pediatric AIDS clinical trial, beginning in 1987, which showed the effectiveness of using the drug AZT in reducing the incidence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by over by 60%. She left Duke in 1996 and became scientific director of the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Dr. Katz continued to teach at Duke until his retirement in 2017.
Dr. Mary Klotman, Dean of Duke Medical School and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, said in a phone interview: “He was so knowledgeable about virology and clinical practice and engaged in a very positive way. He was a model for integrating science, clinical care and mentoring the next generation of clinicians.
Dr. Katz has received numerous accolades, including the Albert Sabin Vaccine Institute Gold Medal in 2003, and in 2007 he received the highly prestigious Pollin Prize in recognition of his contributions to pediatric infectious disease research. and vaccine development, in particular its role in measles vaccine development and application. The fifth annual $200,000 Pollin Prize, the world’s largest prize for pediatric research, recognizes outstanding achievements in biomedical or public health research that have resulted in significant improvements in the health of children.
In his later years, he remained a strong advocate for vaccine safety, despite an outpouring of anti-vaccination groups.
A true mensch
Upon his death at age 95 on October 31st 2022, memories flooded in around the world.
One of the moving tributes was paid by Dr. Robert Saul, a former student, colleague and friend. Here is an exerpt :
I was a new doctor, ready to take on the world of pediatrics, in 1976. I was going to Duke University Medical Center [and] was privileged to be under the tutelage of Dr. Sam Katz, Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics. My life was changed forever in the next 3 years in ways unimaginable. Medical training after medical school had a disturbing reputation. Yet Dr. Katz’s enthusiasm and humanity made this work less of a burden as we recognized its importance and critical need. I felt his compassion for those we treated. I felt his empathy for his interns through the nurturing environment he established within the department. I have wondered over the years what qualities Sam had as a mentor that I could incorporate into my career after residency. He was an experienced and trusted advisor, but he was much more than that. Let me explain –
Research – The importance of this work cannot be overstated in terms of saving countless lives and disabilities.
Educator – Sam has always been acutely aware of his responsibility (and ability) to be an effective teacher for the next generation of doctors. His prolific writings testify to his determination as an educator. I would like to think that my enthusiasm for the same was ignited by Dr. Katz. Two of my books on pediatric infectious diseases that he co-authored have been authored by Sam and figure prominently in my study.
Administrator – The pressures of juggling administrative tasks while maintaining clinical activity, educational tasks and research activities can create a cocoon around [administrators]. This was never the case for Sam as he was there whenever needed.
Innovator – Even at the end of his career, he was looking for ways to bring HIV treatment to those in need far beyond the borders of the United States. He actively promoted all vaccines in innovative ways, recognizing their importance to children’s health.
Lawyer – Sam has been a tireless advocate throughout his life on behalf of children. He effectively advocated for a strong emphasis on the needs of children and the need for continued research to improve in the years to come.
Visionary – His ability to lead the charge of enhanced pediatric services and research at Duke and nationally (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) has been recognized by many. Sam’s awards were many and well deserved.
Humanitarian – One of Sam’s greatest contributions has been his ability to reach so many people. He was truly a citizen of the world, sharing the humanity of all.
Colleague – In the years following my residency, we became colleagues, an honored status for me. To be a colleague with such an amazing man was the privilege of a lifetime – and I was so grateful.
Friend -. Each new acquaintance of Sam led to a friendship. He was invested in every relationship.
I have to tell a very personal story. One day I was asked to come to Dr. Katz’s office. He asked if something was wrong. “People have noticed that you seem less cheerful than usual,” he said. I said, “Well, my dad’s in Chicago and he’s got severe cancer. I can’t afford to go visit.
He arranged for a plane ticket and time off. He said, “You can pay me back with a donation to the department after your practice.” This “debt” has been repaid, but the memories of his generosity will never fade.
Dr. Samuel Katz lived and breathed the Jewish values of tikkun olam, staring at the world and appreciating the infinite value of life. It was a brilliant mensch who saved millions of lives and made the world a better and safer place.
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