Adonis Diaries

Archive for December 4th, 2015


Obituary: Hunein F. ‘John’ Maassab, developer of FluMist (1926-2014)

March 21, 2014

Hunein F. “John” Maassab, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and developer of the nasal-spray influenza vaccine FluMist, died Feb. 1 in North Carolina. He was 87.

A world renowned scientist recognized for his extensive research into the creation and development of influenza vaccines, Maassab first isolated the Influenza Type-A-Ann Arbor virus in 1960 and by 1967 had developed a cold-adapted virus.

Nearly 40 years later, his research resulted in FluMist, a cold-adapted, live attenuated, trivalent influenza virus vaccine.


“John spent more than 4 decades in our department of epidemiology, building on one finding after another, to develop the vaccine we know today as FluMist,” said Martin Philbert, dean of the U-M School of Public Health. “One of our school’s proudest achievements, the vaccine is contributing to the reduction of influenza morbidity and mortality worldwide.“

Maassab was born June 11, 1926, in Damascus, Syria.

He received his Bachelor of Arts (1950) and Master of Arts (1952) degrees from the University of Missouri and his Master of Public Health (1954) and Ph.D. (1956) degrees from the University of Michigan. After receiving his doctorate in 1956, Maassab worked as an assistant in research in U-M’s Department of Epidemiology, then became a research associate in 1957, an assistant professor in 1960, an associate professor in 1965, and a full professor in 1973.

He served as epidemiology chairman (1991-1997) and was founder and first director of the school’s Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology Program.

In February 2003 he was named professor emeritus of epidemiology.

As a doctoral student in 1955, Maassab sat in the back of U-M’s Rackham Auditorium and watched his professor, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr., announce to the world that the polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk was “safe, effective and potent.”

Maassab went on to make medical history of his own, and to continue Michigan’s legacy of vaccine research and development.

On Dec. 18, 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee deemed the vaccine Maassab had spent 40 years developing to be safe and effective for healthy people aged 5 to 49.

The vaccine was licensed in June 2003 as FluMist.

“John’s long professional life was a true testament to the value of perseverance in the pursuit of scientific discovery,” said colleague Rashid Bashshur, professor emeritus of health management and policy. “For several decades, John was totally committed and fully absorbed by his search for an effective and safe live vaccine for influenza. He set his mind on this goal in the mid-1950s after he witnessed the national press conference on the Salk Polio Vaccine by Thomas Francis on this campus.”

A teacher and mentor to many, Maassab treated his students as family, many of them would recall. “John’s impact on my life transcends the influence of a teacher/mentor,” remembered Armen Donabedian, chief, Influenza Vaccine Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/ASPR/BARDA. “John gave me my future.”

Three programs at the U-M School of Public Health honor Maassab: the H.F. Maassab Student Research Award, which funds research and presentation in the field of viral respiratory diseases; the Hunein F. Maassab Scholarship Fund, which supports students in epidemiology; and the Hunein F. and Hilda Maassab Endowed Professorship in epidemiology.

“Dr. Maassab was an inspiration to many of us at the university and in the healthcare community,” U-M Associate Vice President for Research-Technology Transfer Ken Nisbet said.

“His perseverance in developing the live strains for the FluMist formulation is legendary. The commercial success of FluMist allowed continued investments by the university into research and education, and inspired another generation of students and researchers. But the true value of his work lies in the millions of people who have, and will have, access to an innovative vaccine for the perils of influenza.”

Maassab is survived by twin sons, Sammy and Fred. His wife, the former Hilda Zahka, died in 2006.


All cases are special cases

The art of the successful institution is figuring out which cases are special enough to deserve a fresh eye.

It’s virtually impossible to scale an institution that insists on making a new decision every time it encounters a new individual.

On the other hand, what makes a bureaucracy stupid is its insistence that there are no special cases.

They’re all special. The difficult work at scale is figuring out which ones are special enough.

And, if you want to be seen and respected and sought out as the anti-bureaucracy, there’s your strategy: All cases are special cases.

Good judgment, it turns out, is very difficult to boil down to a few pages in a rulebook.

The end of the future is premature

Twenty years ago, when I was working on projects with AOL, we were sure that this was the next big thing for a long time to come.

It was a profitable natural monopoly, one that could expand to serve everyone’s needs. They were the end of the future of the Internet.

When one surveyed people in 1996, most thought AOL = The Internet. They were the same thing, game over.

Then, of course, just four years later, Yahoo cornered the market. It was where everyone started their internet experience. All you needed. That didn’t last more than a decade.

We have similar conversations about the form factor and platform of the iPhone.

And Facebook, of course, will be the way generations connect online… it’s hard to imagine the next thing.

Until it’s here.

As far as I can tell, there’s always a next thing.

[Even better, it turns out that this thing, the thing we have now, is worth working with, because it offers so many opportunities compared with merely waiting for the next thing.]

Israel persisting on demolishing Palestinian homes

My name is Nora and I’m a grandmother living in the Muslim Quarter of the old City of Jerusalem.

In days my children, grandchildren and I could lose our home to Israeli settlers and security forces.

They are trying their hardest to push us out, and I’m writing to you today because I urgently need everyone’s help to stop them. 

Back in April, Avaaz members in Palestine signed a petition demanding for this decision to be reversed, and public pressure is one of the main reasons the eviction has been postponed.

But now officials are in their final stages of deciding, and if we show them that thousands of people are standing with my family, we could get them to drop the case entirely and let us stay in our home.

Tomorrow, we are marching across Jerusalem to the EU and US representatives urging them to intervene and help protect our land.

Sign the petition

Our family has lived in this home for decades. I worked hard to ensure my children received a decent education.

My two oldest sons dedicate their lives working for human rights. My daughter is a university student.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing my grandchildren who are 9 and 2 years old growing up in our family home. I pray for a peaceful future for them and my heart aches when I think we could all be evicted from our home in the coming days.

We’re being evicted because a settler organization, Ateret Cohanim, that publicly declares its desire to create a Jewish majority in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem petitioned the Israeli courts to kick us out of our home.

The Israeli court issued an eviction order in September 2014 based on testimonies of Israeli settlers that want to take over our neighborhood.

They know nothing about my family and our life at home, and are blinded by hate.

I have lived through my life watching my neighbors in the Old City, and my family across Jerusalem, being slowly pushed out of the city through cooperation between settlers, the Israeli political establishment and the outcome of discriminatory judicial rulings.

I have decided to remain steadfast, and need your help to ensure we’re not transferred. 




December 2015

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