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Werner and Gertrude Henle Papers 1955-1987
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Biography

Biographical Note

Werner and Gertrude Szpingier Henle were a prodigious force in virology, immunology, and viral oncology during the second half the twentieth century. Researching together, they explored the various mechanisms involved in viral infection. A pragmatic research team, the Henles utilized their research to develop methods of diagnosis and immunization from infectious diseases.

The Henles first received acclaim for their work on infectious viruses. In 1943, they convincingly demonstrated the effectiveness of an influenza vaccine. The development of a rapid test for diagnosing mumps and an evaluation of a vaccine for mumps has also been credited to the Henles. In cooperation with Dr. Joseph Stokes, Jr., the Henles demonstrated how gamma globulin could be employed to hinder the development and proliferation of infectious hepatitis.

In addition to their contributions to disease prevention, the Henles' research on the mechanism of viral infections led to the discovery of three disease states: latency, persistency, and viral interference. Their research on viral interference laid the groundwork for the later discovery of interferon.

The Henles are the most well known, however, for their research on Epstein-Barr virus. They demonstrated the causal relationship between Epstein-Barr virus and infectious mononucleosis. Further research on Epstein-Barr led the Henles to conclude that EBV aided in the development of two human cancers, Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. This significant relationship between Epstein-Barr virus and cancer demonstrated that the presence of certain viruses in the nucleus of a cell could transform a healthy cell into a malignant one. Applying this discovery to current cancer research, scientists are now studying how non-viral cancers are induced.

The Henles continued their research on Epstein-Barr virus and disease-induced immunodeficiencies such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, Hodgkins disease, ataxia-telangiectasia, Chediak-Higashi syndrome, and X-linked lymphoproliferative syndrome until Werner's death in 1987. After his death, Gertrude concluded their research.

Werner Henle, the son of a surgeon and grandson of anatomist-histologist Jacob Henle, was born in Dortmund, Germany on August 27, 1910. He attended the University of Munich from 1929-1930 and transferred to the University of Heidelberg in 1930 where he finished the course work needed for medical degree in 1934. The Nazi regime posed threats for Werner whose grandfather, Jacob Henle, was of Jewish descent (although baptized). Werner was classified as 25% non-Aryan and was not permitted to finish the internship required for the M.D. degree in any university, state or city hospital. Finding a hospital to finish the required internship was difficult. Fortunately, Werner was accepted at the Abteilung fur Pathologie of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut fur Medizinische Forschung in Heidelberg. After being transferred to a low-profile department at this institute, Werner completed the needed internship for his medical degree. It became "increasingly clear" to Werner that he could "not stay in Germany and pursue a career to my liking." Thus, Werner came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1936 after being granted an instructorship at the University of Pennsylvania.

From 1936-1939, Werner served as an associate instructor in the microbiology department at the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania. In 1937, Gertrude Szpingier, Werner's fiancee whom he had meet during his years at University of Heidelberg, emigrated to the United States. Gertrude was born in Mannheim, Germany on April 3, 1912. She received her medical degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1936. The day after Gertrude's arrival in America, she and Werner were married. Gertrude then joined Werner as a faculty member in the microbiology department at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1939, Werner was promoted to associate professor in the virology department, University of Pennsylvania. In 1940, he became a member of the research team at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. One year later, Gertrude joined Werner as an associate professor of virology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the research staff at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. After more than 45 years service to the University of Pennsylvania, Werner and Gertrude retired from the University faculty in 1982. They continued their research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia until a few months prior to Werner's death in July 1987.

Werner and Gertrude were members of many health organizations and professional societies. They were active participants in the American Academia of Microbiology, the Tissue Culture Association, and the Society for American Microbiologists. Werner was also a member of the American Association of Immunologists, the Society for General Microbiology, the American Public Health Association, the New York Academia of Science, and the American Society for Cancer Research. Werner served as a consultant for the United States Surgeon General, the United States Army, and many different international health committees and hospital boards. Among their many awards and honors, the Henles received the Heart of Variety Show Bus Award in 1969; the Bristol-Meyers Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research in 1979; the Mead Johnson Award in 1950; the Billings Bronze Medal for Scientific Exhibit in 1953; the Smith, Kline, and French Award for Excellence in Research in 1971; the Robert-Koch-Medaille (one of West Germany's highest honors) in 1971; the Robert de Villeirs Award of the Leukemia Society of America in 1975; the Founders in Cancer Immunology Award from the Cancer Research Institute, Inc. in 1975; the Virus Cancer Program Award from the National Cancer Institute in 1975; the Scientific Award from the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Cancer Society in 1977; and the Children's Hospital's Gold Medal Award in 1983.

Werner Henle Chronology

1910Birth of Werner Henle in Dortmund, Germany on August 27
1936Emigrated to United States
1937Marriage to Gertrude Szpingier
1942Naturalized as an American Citizen
1987Death of Werner Henle on July 6
1929-30University of Munich
1930-34University of Heidelberg
1934M.D., University of Heidelberg
1935-36Internship, University of Heidelberg and Kaiser Wilhelm Institute
1971Honorary doctorate, University of Basel, Switzerland
1936-39Instructor, Department of Medical Microbiology, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
1939Professor of Virology in Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
1939Director, Division of Research Virology, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
1947-63Director, Virus Diagnostic Laboratory, Reference Laboratory of the Department of Health, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
1947-66Professor Virology, Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
1982Professor Emeritus of Virology, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
1951-87Member, World Health Organization Expert, Advisory Panel on Virus Diseases
1952-55Consultant to the Surgeon General, U.S. Public Health Service
1958-72Consultant to the Surgeon General, U.S. Armed Forces. Member, Commission on Viral Infections, U.S. Armed Forces
1962-70Chairman, Epidemiology, Hepatitis Subgroup, U.S. Armed Forces
1962-66Viral and Rickettsial Study Sections and Training Grant Committee
1962-67Consultant, Virus Cancer Program, National Cancer Institute
1968-73Scientific Advisory Board, Institute for Medical Research, Camden, New Jersey
1969-74Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, St. Jude Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee
1971-73Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, Leukemia Society of America
1974-76Member, National Cancer Advisory Board
1983Member, General Motors Awards Assembly