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Robert M. Chanock Papers 1933-2008 (bulk 1950-2008)
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Biography

Biographical Note

Robert M. Chanock (1924-2010) was an influential pediatrician and virologist. He served as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease's (NIAID) Laboratory of Infectious Diseases (LID) from 1968 to 2001. He is best known for making major contributions to the prevention and treatment of childhood respiratory infections. Chanock was an internationally renowned virologist who identified a baffling pathogen that infects the majority of infants and is the most common cause of life-threatening pneumonia in premature babies; the first to identify and characterize this pathogen, which he called human respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. During his six-decade career at NIAID Chanock performed wide-ranging and groundbreaking research on a number of stubborn and dangerous diseases, particularly those affecting children and babies. He was equally admired by colleagues for his ability to foster a dynamic and creative environment in which other scientists also thrived. Members of his lab group identified Norovirus (Norwalk virus), which causes intestinal flu, and developed the first nasal spray flu vaccine. He led research into adenovirus, hepatitis A, rotavirus, West Nile virus, and dengue fever. His team developed vaccines for Hepatitis A, rotavirus, and West Nile virus as well as the first nasal spray flu vaccine. Chanock holds several patents for these inventions and many others.

Chanock was born and grew up in Chicago. Drafted into the Army in 1943 and given a choice to deploy overseas or go to medical school, he chose school and was accepted into the University of Chicago undegraduate school and its School of Medicine, receiving degrees in 1945 and 1947. After interning at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Ca., he returned to Chicago for training in pediatrics. In 1950 while on a fellowship at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, he began working with his mentor and professional inspiration, Dr. Albert Sabin.

Chanock was drafted again in 1952 during the Korean War and was sent to Korea to deal with an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis, also known as Japanese B virus. Chanock never completed this work after suffering a burst appendix; instead he turned to researching infectious diseases while stationed in Tokyo for the remainder of his Korean War service. Upon his return to civilian life, Dr. Chanock studied little-understood viruses which commonly plagued infants. His research took him back to Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Johns Hopkins University before he joined NIAID at NIH. In 1957 he discovered the human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes respiratory infections in infants. This breakthrough was followed by the determination of four related agents, called para-influenza viruses.

In 1962 Dr. Chanock demonstrated that atypical or walking pneumonia was caused by the bacterium mycoplasma pneumoniae and that it could be cured with antibiotics. His lab developed vaccines to prevent adenovirus infection, Hepatitis A, and rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhoea in infants and young children, and importantly the first nasal spray flu virus vaccine for use with children.

Dr. Chanock is considered an important and influential virologist. He became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1973 and is the recipient of the Robert Koch Prize, the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal, the E. Mead Johnson Award, the Public Health Service’s Meritorious Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Gorgas Medal. Chanock died at age 86 on July 30, 2010.