Dr. John Franklin Enders, 88, a professor emeritus of bacteriology and immunology at Harvard University who was a cowinner of the 1954 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for his work in polio research, died Sept. 9 at his summer home in Waterford, Conn. He had a lung ailment.
Dr. Enders was one of three Americans to receive to the 1954 Nobel for medicine. The others were Dr. Thomas H. Weller, also of Harvard, and Dr. Frederick C. Robbins of the old Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland. The award was "for their discovery that poliomyelitis virus is capable of growing in cultures of different tissues." They had discovered that a pure virus, in great quantities, could be produced through the use of a culture of monkey kidneys. This provided the key tool needed in developing usuable polio vaccines.
Before this, it had been impossible to produce a safe polio vaccine in quantities required for large-scale immunization because of the extreme scarcity of the isolated virus. The results of this work were the Salk and Sabin vaccines. And those vaccines, beginning in the 1950s, made polio, which was once among the most feared diseases, an ailment rarely seen in the industrialized world.
In addition to his work on polio, Dr. Enders conducted parallel research on measles. His work in that field resulted in a vaccine that was introduced in the early 1960s. He also did pioneer work on a vaccine for mumps.
Dr. Enders, who lived in Brookline, Mass., was born in Hartford. His father was a banker and one of his grandfathers was a founder of the Aetna Life Insurance Co. He served in the Navy during World War I. He was a graduate of Yale University and received a master's degree in English at Harvard University in 1922.
After abandoning a career in real estate, he returned to Harvard to work toward a doctorate in English. His interest waned and a fellow student introduced him to Hans Zinsser, then a professor of bacteriology and immunology at Harvard. Zinsser inspired him to start a new field of study.
In 1929, he joined the Harvard Medical School as an assistant in bacteriology and immunology. A year later, he was awarded a Harvard doctorate in microbiology.
He began his studies of viruses in the 1930s when that discipline was in its infancy. In addition to teaching at Harvard, where he was named a professor emeritus in 1967, he had been affiliated with the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston.
In 1961, Time magazine said that "by virtue of temperament and academic qualifications," Dr. Enders was "one of the deepest thinkers in virology. A philosopher of natural science, his contributions have been long-leap deductions and intuitions that guide other men's research, hypotheses that bypass a thousand experiments."
His first wife, the former Sarah F. Bennett, died in 1943. Survivors include his wife, the former Caroline B. Keane, whom he married in 1951, of Brookline and Waterford.