Robert H. Purcell was born in Keokuk, Ohio, in 1935. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Oklahoma in 1957, a master’s degree in biochemistry from Baylor University in 1960 and an MD from Duke University in 1962. After completing an internship in Pediatrics at Duke University Hospital, he joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1963 to 1965. During that time, he carried out studies on respiratory viruses and mycoplasmal diseases before turning his attention to the study of hepatitis viruses at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Laboratories in Bethesda, MD, where he became the Head of the Hepatitis Viruses Section of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. In 1997, he joined the Senior Biomedical Research Services. He continues to work at the NIH as Head of the Hepatitis Virus Section. He is also an adjunct Professor at several universities and a member of many medical, scientific and honor societies.
Professor Purcell authored or co-authored several books and more than 600 scientific articles, describing mainly his contributions to the discovery and characterization of the hepatitis viruses. His achievements include the first visualization of Hepatitis A virus (HAV) and the first serologic test for HAV, which helped in defining the epidemiology of this virus and its role in liver disease. His extensive laboratory and field research with John Gerin over the past three decades has led to the identification, characterization and screening of different hepatitis viruses and the development of vaccines to control most of them. His laboratory is currently working on the elucidation of molecular virology of these viruses.
Professor Purcell’s seminal contributions to the field of viral hepatitis earned him wide recognition. In addition to the King Faisal International Prize for Medicine, he received many other awards including the Gigas Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Squibb award, the Gold Medal Award of the Canadian Liver Foundation; and the Inventor’s Incentive Award of the Society
for Experimental Biology and Medicine. He is also an elected fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Academy of Microbiologist and the US National Academy of Sciences. He also serves as adjunct professor at several universities.
Working in close collaboration, these two prominent scientists devoted most of their research activities for the discovery, identification, characterization and vaccine developments of various hepatitis viruses. Their achievements in this field represent one of the most remarkable and important events in the history of one of the most common communicable diseases of our time. They have produced seminal studies on hepatitis A, Band E viruses. Their work led to the development of the vaccines of hepatitis A and B which are now widely used around the world.
Their investigations are scientifically meritorious and the results of their work have had a profound effect on the control and prevention of various forms of hepatitis. In addition, their laboratories have been points of reference for many centers around the world, devoted to the study of hepatitis.