Doctor who isolated measles virus dies

Dr. Thomas Peebles, the doctor who isolated a strain of the measles virus that lead to the creation of a vaccine, died on July 8 at his home in Port Charlotte, Fla., at the age of 89.

Dr. Peebles made the significant discovery in 1954, only three years after his graduation from Harvard Medical School.

"I was most fortunate, neophyte that I was, to be the first individual to recognize the effects of the measles virus on living cells in tissue culture,'' he wrote in a 1967 report to his Harvard class as reported by the Boston Globe on August 3.

“I am sure, as is often the case in scientific endeavor, that much of the successful recognition and isolation of this virus lay in perseverance, newness to the field, and failure to be bound by preconceived ideas that caused others in the laboratory to miss this new effect," Dr. Peebles wrote.

A “D” in freshman biology almost kept the French major from pursuing his early medical ambitions. His plan was to teach the language, but World War II intervened. In the war, Peebles flew a B-24 bomber in the Pacific Theater, the Boston Globe reported. During the war, a flight surgeon he bunked with convinced Peebles to pursue medicine after all - he also attributed his conversion to “medicinal whiskey,” according to the Boston Globe.

“He was a pioneer; he was always thinking ahead,’’ Dr. James Dineen, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General, said of Dr. Peebles to the Boston Globe.