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Mayyasi Retires from CSR

By Don Luckett

Though the world is in turmoil, Dr. Sami Mayyasi speaks softly. "I feel very much at peace," he said, as he retired from the Center for Scientific Review as scientific review administrator of its AIDS study section, which reviews AIDS immunology and pathogenesis grant applications. His sense of peace comes with a sense of gratitude. He arrived in this country from Palestine in 1947 just before his family lost their home in the conflict there. "I did my job and, in a way, paid back what this country gave me."

Early in life, Mayyasi dreamed of becoming a physician and helping others. He earned a B.A. and an M.S. in microbiology from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Circumstances, however, led him to graduate school at Ohio State University. In 1953, he earned a Ph.D. in virology there, studying the effects of temperature and humidity on the infectivity of influenza and polio viruses. He continued his research there with an Eli Lilly postdoctoral research fellowship. He then joined the Army Chemical Corps at Ft. Detrick, where he spent 2 years studying the growth of viruses in tissue cultures and developing methods to detect early viral infections.

Dr. Sami Mayyasi

Mayyasi went on to help tackle some serious threats to public health. In 1957, he began a 23-year research career with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. As manager of vaccine development at its Terre Haute, Ind., laboratory, he guided the development of the company's first influenza vaccine. He then geared up production of the Salk polio vaccine as head of its virus unit. In 1961, he was called to the Pfizer laboratories in Sandwich, England, where he coordinated the production, testing and licensing of the Sabin oral polio vaccine for children. Mayyasi also coordinated the production and licensing of a live attenuated measles vaccine.

In 1963, he moved to Pfizer Cancer Research Labs in Maywood, N.J., to further research on viruses associated with cancer. He was appointed assistant director there in 1972. His group grew oncogenic viruses in tissue cultures and developed methods to purify and measure them and related antibodies for further research. Much of this work was done under contract for the National Cancer Institute. Between 1973 and 1979, he also served as an adjunct professor of virology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Rutherford, N.J.

He briefly served as president of a company that conducted toxicology studies, Biosphere Research Center, Inc., in New York City, between 1980 and 1981. He then was recruited by Lederle Laboratories to head its department of tissue culture in Pearl River, N.Y.

Mayyasi came to NIH in 1983 as an expert in the Training Branch of the National Cancer Institute. Four years later, he was recruited by CSR's predecessor, the Division of Research Grants, to help coordinate the review of AIDS-related grant applications.

When colleagues heard he was retiring, they sent letters of good wishes that filled a notebook. Dr. Glen Gaulton from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center praised Mayyasi for his "continued kindness" and "generosity of spirit" and Dr. Joseph G. Sodroski of Harvard Medical School summed up the comments of many when he said that Mayyasi's "dedication, integrity and commitment to fairness have been inspiring."

Mayyasi says he may travel with his wife to Hungary, play more tennis, visit with his family, and look for a new opportunity to help others. He has not, however, made elaborate plans. "I want to rest," he said. "I'll just take my time and then decide what I'll do."

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