Processing of the Myron “Max” Essex papers has begun

By , March 2, 2016
Max Essex, the Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at his desk at HSPH. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Max Essex, the Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at his desk at HSPH. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

In 1982, along with Robert Gallo (1937-) and Luc Montagnier (1932-), Myron “Max” Essex (1939-) hypothesized that a retrovirus was the cause of AIDS. Working with colleagues, he identified the envelope proteins of HIV that are routinely used for diagnosis of HIV/AIDS and for blood screening, and he later identified the simian T cell virus and the simian immunodeficiency virus in monkeys, and HIV-2 in human beings, working with students and peers. The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to report that the Myron Essex papers (1965-1996), a product of Essex’s professional, research, and publishing activities, are being published as part of Maximizing Microbiology: Molecular Genetics, Cancer, and Virology.

Myron “Max” Essex (1939-) completed his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, in 1967, and then received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, in 1970. Beginning his career as a veterinarian, Essex focused on research on feline leukemia and this virus’s transmittal through sexual contact and saliva. His studies of feline leukemia, also known as feline AIDS, related closed to ongoing research about infectious human diseases, and eventually his research transitioned to the study of human retroviruses. Essex served as an Assistant and Associate Professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (1972-1978) and was a lecturer, Department of Pathology at Harvard Medical School (1976-1992). In 1979, he became a Professor of Virology, Harvard School of Public Health. Essex acted as the Chairman, Department of Microbiology, Harvard School of Public Health (1978-1982), and continued to act as the Chairman of the renamed and restructured Department of Cancer Biology (1982-1997). He then became Chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, a role he held until 2006. Essex was offered the position of the Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at Harvard University in 1989, and has held this position ever since. He was also the John LaPorte Given Professor of Infectious Diseases (1998-2006).

Essex has been the Chair of the Harvard AIDS Institute, now the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health AIDS Initiative, since 1988, and has been involved with the development of its educational programs. Since 1986, Essex has developed programs for AIDS collaboration in Senegal, Thailand, Botswana, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Mexico, and China, and in 1996, helped to organize the Botswana-Harvard Partnership for HIV Research and Education, a collaboration between the Ministry of Health in Botswana and the Harvard AIDS Institute. He is presently the Chair of the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute in Gaborone, Botswana.

Much of Essex’s scientific research relates to the transmission of retroviruses and their links to certain diseases in both animals and human beings. Working with William A. Haseltine (1944-), he was among the first to link human and animal retroviruses to immunosuppressive diseases, and, with Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier to theorize that AIDS was caused by a retrovirus. Alongside fellow scientists, Essex provided the first evidence that HIV could be transmitted through blood transfusions and sexual intercourse. In 1984, with colleagues, Essex identified gp120, the virus surface protein that is used for blood screening, HIV detection, and epidemiological monitoring. He was part of the group that discovered the first simian immunodeficiency virus, as well as HIV-2 in human beings. Currently, he conducts research related to the virology, immunobiology, and molecular epidemiology of HIV-1 viruses, especially the HIV-1C of southern Africa. Essex has laboratories at both the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where research focuses on the evolution of new HIV viruses; and the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute, where his research focuses prevention of new HIV infections through the Botswana Combination Prevention Project, as well as drug development to decrease mother-to-infant transmissions, drug resistance, and the possible transmission of drug resistant HIV variants.

The papers, created throughout Essex’s professional, research, and publishing activities, include correspondence, teaching and conference records, research notes and data, and writings and publications. The papers are expected to be opened to research by the end of 2016.

The Maximizing Microbiology: Molecular Genetics, Cancer, and Virology, 1936-2000 project is funded by a Hidden Collections grant from the Harvard University Library. In addition to the Myron Essex papers, the project has already led to the processing of collections of several other microbiologists, including those of Bernard D. Davis, Arthur B. Pardee, Francesc Duran i Reynals, and Luigi Gorini. For more information on the Maximizing Microbiology project, please contact Emily Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services or Elizabeth Coup, Processing Assistant.


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