Posted by Guest on June 29, 2018 in Blog

By Allison Ulven

On June 11, a brain hemorrhage claimed the life of a man whose work made incredible impacts on science and medicine. His legacy will remain as his vaccines continue to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

Dr. Adel Mahmoud was born on August 24, 1941 in Cairo to Abdelfattah and Fathia Osman. When he was ten years old, his father became ill with pneumonia. After rushing to the store to buy medicine, Adel came home to find that his father had already died, leaving him, the eldest of the three children, as the head of the family. His wife, Dr. Sally Hodder, said that being forced into this position allowed him to develop into a strong leader with a clear vision.

He attended the University of Cairo to study medicine, graduating in 1963. During this time, he served as a leader in the youth movement for the former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. But as the political environment began to change, Adel left Egypt in 1968 to attend the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where he earned his Ph.D. His research was centered around how a type of white blood cell, eosinophils, is able to defend against diseases caused by parasitic worms.

In 1973, he immigrated to the United States as a postdoctoral fellow at Case Western University. After a few years, he quickly advanced to lead the Division of Geographic Medicine, later becoming the chair of the Department of Medicine in 1987. While here, he met his wife who was also specializing in infectious diseases.

From 1990-92, Adel was president of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, and was on the board of directors at Gavi, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and the International Vaccine Institute. In 1998, Dr. Mahmoud became the President of Merck Vaccines, where he was instrumental in finding major vaccinations.His fight to pioneer two life-saving immunizations showed his incredible dedication and spirit for public health.

After one company had already attempted a rotavirus vaccine, which was soon discovered to raise the possibility of bowel obstruction in infants, people were skeptical about testing Dr. Mahmoud’s creation. Adel persisted and produced a study that was able to confirm the success and safety of the drug. He showed the same commitment while trying to get the approval of the HPV vaccination, Gardasil, after skeptics were concerned that it would not work or that it would spur young girls to become sexually active being that the virus is sexually transmitted. The executive vice president at Merck & Co. and former head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, said that without his determination, the vaccines would have never made it past the lab.

Adel also took part in developing a shingles immunization as well as a “combination vaccine” which prevents against the measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella. Now, his vaccines have been given over 500 million times around the world and have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and children each year.

Following his retirement in 2006, Dr. Mahmoud returned to Princeton and became a professor in the Molecular Biology Department at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He was also involved in public policy discussions and tried to instill his passion for public health onto younger generations.

Once, during a campus outbreak of a strange meningitis case for which there was no vaccine in the U.S., Dr. Mahmoud assisted the University in finding an immunization from Europe and securing government permission to distribute it to students. He also became an advocate for developing a global vaccine-development fund due to the 2014 West African Ebola epidemic, asserting, “We cannot let financial burdens stand in the way of solving deadly global health crises.” He was frequently sought after for scientific advice from places like the World Health Organization, the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control, the National Academies, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

People around the world have benefitted from the work he has accomplished. We remember him as a leader, a pioneer, and an important contributor to science.


Allison Ulven is a summer 2018 intern at the Arab American Institute.