Max Theiler was highly respected for the significant contributions he made in the field of virology. A South African virologist, Max Theiler pioneered research into then largely unknown but deadly viruses.
As a medical virologist, Max Theiler was also credited with developing the life-saving yellow fever vaccine.
Max Theiler was born in 1899 in Pretoria and completed his early studies in South Africa. After graduating in 1918, he left Africa for the United Kingdom where he studied further at St. Thomas' Hospital Medical School, King's College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Theiler graduated in 1922, becoming a licentiate of London's Royal College of Physicians and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. That same year he joined the Department of Tropical Medicine at Boston's Harvard Medical School. Over the years that followed, Theiler investigated amoebic dysentery and attempted to develop a vaccine from rat bite fever.
Yellow fever had caught Max Theiler's interest while he was still in London, but it was only when at Harvard, as assistant to Andrew Sellards, that he began researching the tropical disease. In 1927, the two conclusively proved that yellow fever was caused by a virus, and not a bacterium, as previously thought.
Theiler spent hours in the laboratory, eventually demonstrating that the disease could be transmitted to mice and that this then weakened virus provided immunity when introduced to Rhesus monkeys.
In 1930, he joined New York's Rockefeller Foundation and it was here that he set about working on a yellow fever vaccine. Hundreds of experiments later, in 1937, Theiler and his colleagues announced the development of the groundbreaking 17-D vaccine.
Theiler went on to research Weil's disease, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and poliomyelitis, and contributed to several books. He received numerous awards during his career, including a Lasker Award and the 1951 Nobel Prize for Medicine. He passed away on 11 August 1972.