Dr. Werner Henle, Virologist

Posted: July 07, 1987

Dr. Werner Henle, an internationally known virologist, died yesterday. He was 77 and lived in Newtown Square, Delaware County.

Henle was emeritus director of the Virus Diagnostic Laboratory of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. With his wife, Dr. Gertrude Henle, he had been associated with the hospital and the University of Pennsylvania for more than 40 years.

The husband-wife team is credited with being responsible for the first convincing demonstration in 1943 of the effectiveness of inoculation against influenza.

The two were also responsible for the development of a rapid test to diagnose mumps in the first few days of illness, as well as for evaluation of a vaccine against mumps.

They also cooperated with the late Dr. Joseph Stokes Jr. in the research work that demonstrated the effectiveness of gamma globulin against infectious hepatitis.

"It is a tribute to Dr. Henle's professional dedication that since he and his wife retired from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982, they both continued to come in to Children's Hospital daily to continue their research until a few months ago," said Richard D. Wood, former chairman of the hospital's board of managers and current chairman of the Children's Hospital Foundation. "The value of their work can be measured by the thousands of children whose lives have been saved."

The Henles' important basic research concerning the mechanism of virus infections made possible the discovery of interferon.

The husband-wife team also showed that the Epstein-Barr virus, a previously unknown human virus, is the cause of infectious mononucleosis and is involved in the development of two human cancers, Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Henle was the grandson of German anatomist Jacob Henle, who identified a part of the kidney known as "Henle's loop." Werner Henle was born in Germany and received his medical degree from the University of Heidelberg before immigrating to this country. He had known his wife in Germany, and they married after she arrived in the United States.

The discovery that brought the most public attention occurred in the late 1960s, when the Henles identified the first virus regularly associated with human cancers.

They established a relationship between infectious mononucleosis and Burkitt's lymphoma, a cancer common in some parts of Africa. Their research provided an important tool for study of infectious mononucleosis, its detection and diagnosis.

Dr. Klaus Hummeler, director of Children's Hospital's Joseph Stokes Jr. Research Institute, said, "The regard in which the Henles were held by the scientific community was indicated when the 1984 edition of 'Progress in Medical Virology' was published in honor of the Drs. Henle."

Over the years Henle and his wife received numerous honors, including the Bristol-Myers Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research in 1979, and the Children's Hospital Gold Medal, the institution's highest award, in 1983.

Henle was a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board from 1974 to 1976 and was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. He and his wife hold the rank of professors emeritus of virology in pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. They have contributed more than 385 articles to scientific literature.

Gertrude Henle is his only immediate survivor.

A memorial service at Children's Hospital will be held at a later date.

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