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David Smith
(1932 - )
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1969
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Image Courtesy: Lasker Foundation


Doctor on Team that Makes Hib Disease Rates Tumble


Smith, growing up in Canton, Ohio, was introduced to science at a young age. His father was a science teacher and his mother a mathematics tutor. Smith, doing only what seemed natural, followed in his parents' footsteps and pursued a career in medicine. During medical school he participated in a "year-out" program, during which he worked fulltime in the laboratory of a microbiologist. It was this early work studying the effect of viruses that shaped the remainder of his career. In 1968, Smith began a years-long pursuit to develop a vaccine against Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib), the leading cause of bacterial meningitis. Over the next 15 years Smith, along with colleague Porter Anderson, worked to perfect the vaccine. Finding no pharmaceutical company interested in buying the rights to his vaccine, Smith started his own small company to produce the vaccine. The incidence of Hib disease in the United States has been reduced by 99 percent since the introduction of Smith's Hib vaccine.

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.

Smith was both brilliant and persistent. When he and other young doctors made their Harvard rounds one day, they were challenged by Smith's mentor, Charles Janeway. They stood at the bedside of a young boy suffering from meningitis. Janeway told the group, "One of you should try to find a vaccine to prevent this terrible disease." That set things in motion, and Smith was off on a 15-year journey of discovery. Smith's work built on earlier discoveries that many bacteria have a protective coat made up of chains of sugar molecules known as polysaccharides. It's these protective coats the immune system attacks. Early results with lab animals, however, were unsatisfactory. So Smith and Anderson did what many great scientists have done - they became the first human test subjects of their own vaccine. This worked. The pair developed antibodies to Hib and this laid the groundwork for future trials. The first large-scale trial took place in Finland in 1975, and involved 100,000 children. The results were promising, but not perfect. Children older than 18 months received immunity, but those under 18 months did not. This led Smith to develop a second vaccine specifically for use in young infants. Smith and his fellow researcher, Anderson, developed a "conjugate" vaccine to fight against Hib in these infants. A conjugate vaccine joins two different substances - in this case, the polysaccharides from the Hib bacteria with a protein from a second bacteria. It was this introduction of the larger protein that allowed the immune systems of the young infants to recognize the bacteria and to 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. Smith's persistence over the years has paid tremendous dividends, saving tens of thousands of young lives and preventing lifelong disability for many more.

Smith was also a passionate conservationist. He was instrumental in the founding of the Polly Hill Arboretum, a 60-acre botanical sanctuary on Martha's Vineyard. He also found a way to combine his passion for science and his love of nature, by donating $9 million to the Nature Conservancy. This generosity allowed 48 postdoctoral researchers to dedicate themselves to the study of freshwater conservation.
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Introduction by Tim Anderson


Bookcoverjacket


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

University of Rochester Medical Center profile:
http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/cvbi/history.cfm

Society for Conservation Biology biography:
http://www.conbio.org/smithfellows/about/smith/

The New York Times
obituary:



Sliders & Images here




Image Flow Here




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)
Porter Anderson
Hib disease in the U.S. has declined by 99 percent since the introduction of his Hib vaccine.
John Robbins
Made the breakthrough discovery that allowed the Hib vaccine to protect children under 18 months.
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