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John Robbins

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John Robbins
(December 1, 1932 - )
Born in
Year of Discovery:
1987, 1990
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Image Courtesy: Lasker Foundation
His Vaccine Causes Hib Incidence to Decline a Remarkable 99% in Babies and Toddlers

Robbins, you could say, was addicted to sugar. But, in his case, the addiction was quite healthy. In fact, it was Robbins' fascination with polysaccharides, which are chains of sugar molecules, which allowed him to discover a host of vaccines. Perhaps the most significant vaccine, and certainly the one for which he is best known, is the Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine. Hib is the bacterium that causes Hib disease, and most commonly manifests as bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is a devastatingly serious disease that typically strikes young children under the age of two. Robbins joined forces with colleague Rachel Schneerson, while working at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, to study the bacterium and develop the vaccine. Since their successful development of the Hib vaccine, the incidence of Hib disease in the United States has fallen by a remarkable 99 percent.

Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) disease is an invasive disease that primarily affects children under the age of five. This is because these children lack the natural antibodies that children over the age of five and adults have to fight against Hib. Hib is thought to be an airborne disease, spread through the respiratory droplets expelled during coughing and sneezing. The most common result of Hib is bacterial meningitis, although it can also cause epiglottitis (infection and swelling of the throat), pneumonia, arthritis, and other serious conditions. Meningitis causes fever, headaches, stiffness in the neck, vomiting and, in severe cases, seizures. Both meningitis and epiglottitis may result in death. Even when death is avoided, permanent brain damage occurs in about 30 percent of meningitis cases. The majority of cases of Hib-caused meningitis occur in children under two years of age. In 1980, prior to the introduction of the Hib vaccine, there were 20,000 cases of Hib reported in the United States. Today, Hib has been virtually eradicated from the U.S., with only 341 cases being reported between 1996 and 2000. Unfortunately, due to the lack of widespread vaccination, Hib continues to be a scourge in other areas of the world. It is estimated that Hib kills 400,000 children worldwide annually.

The majority of Robbins' career was dedicated to studying vaccines, with a special emphasis on vaccines utilizing polysaccharides and polysaccharide conjugates. A conjugate vaccine joins two substances into a single unit. In the case of the Hib vaccine, Robbins and Schneerson combined the polysaccharide capsule (the shell of the Hib bacterium) with a protein. The team selected this approach after early tests showed their initial (polysaccharide only) vaccine yielded mixed results. The vaccine provided immunity to children older than 18 months, but not to those under 18 months, who are the most susceptible to Hib infection. The introduction of the larger protein allowed the infant's immune systems to recognize the vaccine and produce antibodies against Hib. The first vaccine, for older children and adults, was approved for use in 1987. The second, for use with younger infants, was approved in 1990. Robbins and Schneerson's ingenuity has paid tremendous dividends, saving tens of thousands of young lives and preventing lifelong disability for many more.

Scientists are often single-minded in their pursuit of knowledge, shutting out all that doesn't further their cause. This quality not only marked Robbins' professional career, but spilled over into his personal life as well. While making a formal visit to the State Department, Robbins became intrigued with a beautiful Persian runner carpet, a private passion of his being Oriental rugs. He meticulously studied the weave, pattern and texture of the runner, following it down the hallway and into an exquisitely decorated room. Unfortunately, the ornate room was in fact the ladies' room - and, the security guard was intensely interested in knowing why he had stepped inside.
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Introduction by Tim Anderson


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Table of Contents

Introduction
Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Anecdotes
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Awards
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject
Sources

 









Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

Press release announcing Robbins being awarded the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal:

Robbins' acceptance remarks when receiving the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal (pdf):
http://www.sabin.org/files/attachment/Robbins_medal_speech.pdf

Chemical & Engineering News article on vaccines referencing Robbins' research:
http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/8232/8232vaccines.html




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Key Insight




Key Experiments or Research

 



Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: Hib Disease Vaccine
(Haemophilus influenza
type b)
David Smith
Hib disease in the U.S. has declined by 99 percent since the introduction of his Hib vaccine.
Porter Anderson
Hib disease in the U.S. has declined by 99 percent since the introduction of his Hib vaccine.
Rachel Schneerson
Made the breakthrough discovery that allowed the Hib vaccine to protect children under 18 months.






Quotes by the Scientist




Quotes About the Scientist




Anecdotes




Fun Trivia About the Science




The Science Behind the Discovery



Personal Information



Scientific Discovery Timeline




Recommended Books About the Science




Books by the Scientist




Books About the Scientist

 



Awards




Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist



Curriculum Vitae



Links to Information on the Science





Sources/References