On a recent trip to Israel I met a physics professor at Tel Aviv University who told me a remarkable story. He’d befriended an Iranian doctor who attended to one of his children. In the course of a conversation this doctor said the reason Israelis live longer than Iranians is because Jews have transported deadly viral infections into his homeland. This was not said as a joke.
A day after hearing this story, I read an account of a Syrian journalist who argued that Avian flu is a Zionist plot designed to kill Arabs. Apparently this imaginative reporter believes Jews have also found an antitoxin that keeps them immune from the disease as it is transmitted to others.
While these hoary tales circulate even in respectable Arab and Persian circles, what is overlooked is the role Jews have played in the eradication of some of the most deadly diseases that afflict Jews and non-Jews alike.
Let me cite several examples, albeit there are literally hundreds that could be cited.
Jonas Salk, born in New York City to Russian-Jewish parents, is best known as the inventor of the first polio vaccine (the eponymous Salk vaccine).
Ernest Boris Chain was a German-born Jewish biochemist and Nobel laureate for his work on penicillin. Chain discovered penicillin’s therapeutic action and chemical composition.
David Baltimore is a Jewish-born physician and Nobel Prize recipient for the discovery of reverse transcriptase, which transcribes RNA into DNA. Reverse transcriptase is a critical factor in the reproduction of retroviruses such as HIV.
Baruch Blumberg is the recipient of a 1976 Nobel Prize for discoveries of mechanisms that disseminate infectious diseases. Blumberg identified Hepatitis B virus, developed a diagnostic test and then a vaccine for it.
Michael Stuart Brown is an American geneticist who won a Nobel Prize in Physiology for describing cholesterol metabolism, a factor in addressing cholesterol-related diseases.
Gerald Edelman is an American-born biologist who won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of antibody molecules and how they affect the immune system.
Paul Ehrlich was a German Jewish scientist who won a Nobel Prize for his work in hematology, immunology and chemotherapy. In 1909 he developed Salvarsan, a medicine for sleeping sickness, syphilis and other epidemic diseases.
Gertrude Elion was a biochemist born to Jewish immigrant parents. She received a Nobel Prize for discovering six drugs for various diseases including Septra for meningitis, Daraprim for malaria, Zyloprim for gout, Imuran for organ transplants and Purinethol for leukemia.
Kazimierz Funk was a Polish Jew credited with the first formulation of vitamins, which he called vital amines. He put forward the hypothesis that diseases like rickets, pellagra, sprue and scurvy could be cured with vitamins.
Waldemar Haffkine, a Russian Jew, was the first microbiologist to use vaccines against cholera and bubonic plague. He tested the vaccines on himself, which led Lord Joseph Lister to name him “a savior of humanity.”
Michael Heidelberger was an American immunologist regarded as the father of modern immunology. He showed how antigens are employed to resist diseases.
Tadeus Reichotein was a Polish-born Jew who won a Nobel Prize for his work on hormones of the adrenal cortex which culminated in the isolation of cortisone. The principal industrial process for the artificial synthesis of Vitamin C still bears his name.
Albert Sabin was a renowned American researcher best known for having developed the oral vaccine for polio. It was this biologic that effectively eliminated polio for the United States and most of the globe.
Selman Waksman was a biologist and Nobel Prize winner best known for the discovery of streptomycin. This drug was found to have extensive application in the treatment of numerous infectious diseases. In fact, it was the first antibiotic that could be used to cure tuberculosis. Waksman is credited with coining the term “antibiotics.”