Enders, John F.

Alternative names
Birth 1897-02-10
Death 1985-09-08

Biographical notes:

John Franklin Enders was born in West Hartford, Connecticut on February 10, 1897. He received the A.B. from Yale University (1920), and the M.A. in English (1922), and the Ph.D. in Bacteriology and Immunology (1930) from Harvard University. Enders taught at the Harvard University Medical School from 1930 to 1972, and was professor emeritus from 1967 to 1985. He was appointed director of the Infectious Disease Research Laboratory at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston in 1946, and in 1972 he was appointed Chief of the Virus Research Unit at Children's Hospital, a position that he held until his death. In 1954 Enders and his colleagues Thomas Weller and Frederick Robbins were awarded the Nobel Prize for their successful propagation of poliomyelitis viruses in cultures of non-nervous tissue cells. During his career Enders developed diagnostic tests and a vaccine for mumps, and his experimental research was instrumental in the development of vaccines for measles and poliomyelitis. He died in Waterford, Connecticut on September 8, 1985.

From the description of John Franklin Enders papers, 1916-1988 (inclusive), 1940-1984 (bulk). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702179634

d, Connecticut on September 8, 1985.

John Franklin Enders was born on February 10, 1897, in West Hartford, Connecticut. He was the son of John Ostrom Enders, a banker in Hartford, and Harriet Goulden Whitmore Enders. Enders attended the Noah Webster School in Hartford, and St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. He attended Yale University from 1915 until 1917, when he enlisted in the Navy and became a flight instructor in the U. S. Naval Reserve Flying Corps. He returned to Yale after World War I and received the A.B. in English in 1919.

After working in the real estate business from 1920 to 1921, Enders enrolled in Harvard University, where he studied English literature. He received a master's degree in English in 1922, and continued his studies in pursuit of the Ph.D. Through his roommate, H. K. Ward, Enders met Hans Zinsser, the head of the department of bacteriology and immunology at Harvard. Enders's association with Zinsser, Ward, and other medical students at Harvard, and his longstanding interest in biology, led him to the decision to discontinue his study of literature and begin the study of bacteriology and immunology in 1927.

From 1929 to 1930 Enders was an assistant in the department of bacteriology and immunology of the Harvard Medical School, and in 1930 he received the Ph.D. He continued his career at Harvard as an instructor (1930-1932), faculty instructor (1932-1935), assistant professor (1935-1942), associate professor (1942-1956), professor (1956-1972), and professor emeritus (1967-1985). In 1962 he was appointed to the Higgins University Professorship, one of the highest honors Harvard can confer on one of its faculty.

Enders's early research focused on pneumococci and the distemper virus. In the late 1930s, he began to develop tissue culture models in which viruses could be grown and studied. He successfully cultured cowpox, influenza, and measles virus. In 1940, he and his research team achieved the first successful prolonged roller tube culture of a virus. During World War II he was a civilian consultant on epidemic diseases to the secretary of war. With his team Enders developed diagnostic tests and a vaccine for mumps, a virus which was common among members of the U. S. armed services.

In 1946, Enders was asked to establish the Infectious Disease Research Laboratory at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston. In 1948, Thomas Weller and Frederick Robbins joined him at the laboratory, and in 1949, the three began a new series of viral culture studies. It was this team that first successfully cultured the poliomyelitis virus in non-neural, nonembryonic cells in 1949. They subsequently discovered that polio could survive in the intestinal walls of infected individuals. The team also observed cellular changes in the cultures that offered clear evidence of viral replication. Enders coined the term "cytopathogenic" to describe the altered cells. The team was able to provide large quantities of the virus by refining their culture methods and to neutralize it with specific antibodies. These classic experiments formed the basis for many diagnostic and vaccine applications, as well as contemporary viral culture techniques. In 1954 Enders, Weller, and Robbins were awarded the Nobel Prize for their successful propagation of poliomyelitis viruses in cultures of non-nervous tissue cells.

The poliomyelitis research of Enders and his associates provided the materials and techniques essential for the development of inactivated and attenuated polio vaccines. Similar procedures were used by Enders and Thomas C. Peebles to isolate and grow the measles virus. The adaptation of a strain of measles virus to growth in chick embryo cells by Enders, M. V. Milovanovic, and Samuel Katz, resulted in the development of an attenuated vaccine.

Following his measles research Enders studied cancer and the elucidation of the transformation mechanisms of cells infected with simian virus 40, which then became oncogenic, giving birth to tumors. During the last four years of his life Enders studied acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Enders officially retired in 1967, but he continued to work at Harvard and in his laboratory at Children's Hospital until he was eighty. He was appointed Chief of the Virus Research Unit at Children's Hospital in 1972, and held that position until his death.

Throughout his career Enders was actively involved in numerous professional organizations including the Society of American Bacteriologists; the American Association of Immunologists (for which he served as president); the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine; the American Public Health Association; and the Massachusetts Medical Society. He also served as a member of the Commission on Virus and Rickettsial Diseases (later called the Commission on Viral Infections), Armed Forces Epidemiological Board; the Committee on Growth of the National Research Council; the Scientific Advisory Board of Consultants, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology; the World Health Organization Expert Advisory Panel on Virus Diseases, the Panel on Viruses and Cancer, National Advisory Cancer Council, National Institutes of Health; the Massachusetts Advisory Committee on Poliomyelitis, Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Enders was a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Bacteriology, the Journal of Virology, the Journal of Infectious Diseases, Virology, and the Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine . His articles were published in the Journal of Immunology, the Annual Review of Microbiology, the Journal of Experimental Medicine, Science, the American Journal of Hygiene, The New England Journal of Medicine, as well as in the journals noted above. Enders contributed chapters to Viral and Rickettsial Infections of Man, Diagnostic Procedures for Virus and Rickettsial Diseases, Nelson's Loose Leaf Medicine, and Viral Infections of Infancy and Childhood .

In addition to the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine (1954), Enders received numerous honors and awards including the Passano Award (1953), the Lasker Award (1954), the R. E. Dyer Lectureship Award, U. S. Public Health Service (1954), the Dieselmedaille in Gold, Germany (1962), the Scientific Achievement Award, American Medical Association (1963), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), and the National Human Relations Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews (1967). Enders was an honorary member of the Society for General Microbiology; the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health; the Académie Royale de Medécine de Belgique; and the Royal Society. He was a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences; the American College of Surgeons; the American Pediatric Society; the College of American Pathologists; the Royal Society of Medicine; and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He received honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard, Northwestern, Western Reserve, Tufts, Tulane, Duke, and Oxford Universities, Trinity College, the University of Ibadan, and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1967 the John Franklin Enders University Professorship was established at Harvard to honor him, and in 1976 the Children's Hospital Medical Center named a major pediatric research building for him. The Yale University Medical School established the John Franklin Enders Professorship of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in 1979.

Enders married Sarah Frances Bennett, of Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1927. They had two children, John Ostrom II and Sarah. Mrs. Enders died in 1943. In 1951 Enders married Carolyn B. Keane of Newton Center, Massachusetts. John Enders died in Waterford, Connecticut on September 8, 1985.

From the guide to the John Franklin Enders papers, 1916-1988, (Manuscripts and Archives)


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Ark ID:


  • Communicable diseases
  • Virology--Research
  • Measles virus
  • Mumps
  • Cancer--Research
  • Poliomyelitis research
  • Virus research
  • Tissue culture
  • Viral vaccines


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