Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Diane E. Griffin M.D., Ph.D.
MSA SC 3520-15134

Biography:

Dr. Diane Edmund Griffin, professor and Alfred and Jill Sommer Chair of the W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, made and continues to make extremely valuable contributions to the scientific world, specifically within the study of virology. Griffin focuses her work on alphaviruses, acute encephalitis, measles, and malaria. Her vast responsibilities include teaching, research, chairing a department, guest lecturing, editing and writing scholarly books, articles, and papers and contributing to the public good by sharing her expertise through the media and volunteer work. Her remarkable career and accomplishments warranted her selection to numerous committees, prestigious scientific societies, and awards. Griffin has nobly dedicated her life to helping rid the world of disease through her work with viruses.

Griffin was born on May 5, 1940, in Iowa City, Iowa.1 She grew up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, until her father moved the family to Rock Island, Illinois, to teach at his alma mater, Augustana College.2 Griffin's father was previously a geologist for oil companies like Standard Oil of Ohio, but after World War II, he decided to teach.3 Augustana was not only Griffin's fathers’ alma mater, it was her mother’s alma mater and Griffin's sisters also decided to enroll there. Griffin followed her family’s legacy and enrolled at Augustana College in 1958.4

In 1962, Griffin left the Midwest and entered a Ph. D. program in microbiology at Stanford University in Stanford, California.5 There, she researched immunoglobins under Leon Rosenberg, chair of the microbiology department.6 While researching, Griffin realized her passion for medicine and applied for Stanford’s M.D. program and was accepted.7 Stanford’s longer, five-year, medical program permitted Griffin to continue her Ph.D. program while simultaneously enrolled in the school of medicine. Griffin multitasked heavily to earn both degrees and even utilized vacations to get work done. She wrote her dissertation on antibodies against nitrophenyl haptens, while on holiday from her internship at the Stanford Hospital.8 Griffin also discovered a third passion while at Stanford, John (Jack) Griffin, and the two were married in 1965.9

Griffin earned her M.D. in 1968 and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Stanford University Hospital while finishing her Ph.D.10 She received her Doctorate of Philosophy in microbiology from Stanford University in 1970.11 After completing her dual degrees, Griffin had to choose which field she would enter as a career. Her experience in both research and clinical medicine led her to choose a career in the field of research. “By the time I had finished my internship and one year of residency, I was pretty certain that I wanted to focus more on research than clinical medicine,” said Griffin. “Clinical medicine was never what I did best; I was always better in the lab.”12

Griffins’ husband, Jack, got a job in the new neurology department at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland and the couple moved out East.13 Luckily, another new faculty member, Richard (Dick) Johnson, specializing in viral infections of the nervous system, needed a postdoctoral fellow with an immunology background and an interest in virology.14 Griffin, with her immunoglobin research background and stated research interest “in the pathogenesis of viral infections”, was perfect for the job.15

Under Johnson, Griffin focused on how viruses cause disease.16 She began examining pathogenesis of the Sindbis virus, an alpha virus that causes encephalitis.17 She researched how the virus infects and destroys selected nerve cells in mice.18 She discovered that antibodies against a Sindbis envelope protein could free virus from infected brain cells by way of a noncytolytic mechanism.19 Instead of interacting with the virus particles, the antibodies interacted directly with the cells and halted viral reproduction. Later studies also showed that viral RNA stayed dormant in the brain cells over the long term, and that antibodies were vital to preventing viral reactivation.20

In 1971, just one year after Griffin began working in Johnson’s laboratory, Johnson traveled to Lima, Peru on a clinician exchange.21 Johnson’s discoveries about measles would help shape the path of Griffin's research career. Griffin recalled Johnson's initial findings in Peru saying, “he saw a lot of cases of neurology complications arising from measles, a postmeasles.”22 Postmeasles encephalitis is fairly rare and does not occur that often in developed countries, making it difficult to study.23 But with Griffin's research focused on encephalitis in mice, this was a great opportunity to study the virus in humans. “Dick set up a collaboration...to ask whether this condition was an autoimmune disease or whether virus was infecting the brain,” reflected Griffin.24

The collaborated study lasted ten years and provided intriguing findings on the immunodeficiency induced by measles.25 Griffin discovered that the measles virus could deteriorate the cell-mediated immunity, one of the two primary components of acquired immune response; this forces the immune system to rely solely on antibodies.26 This explained why developing nations are particularly hurt by measles and postmeasles encephalitis. While the virus itself may not kill many people, it still leaves infected individuals, especially children, vulnerable to other infectious agents such as pneumonia or malaria.27 The current measles vaccine cannot be given to infants under six months old, which creates a real health risk for children. About five or six months after birth, infants begin to lose the antibodies passed down from their mothers, which leaves a small but crucial time period where they are vulnerable to infection.28 Since this discovery, Griffin has been working to develop an improved measles vaccine, that can be given to children under six months old, through her understanding and new information on Sindbis and measles.29,30

Griffin took her findings to another field study at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, where she works on tissue cultures of monkeys and children with measles.31 The high rate of HIV infections in Zambia caused Griffin to test every child in her study for HIV. Because HIV is an immunosuppressive virus, just like measles, it could skew the tests' findings.32 “So long as we were doing HIV tests on our measles kids, it was a logical next step to look at the effect of measles on HIV,” said Griffin.33 Rationally, Griffin expected measles to exacerbate HIV infections as well. “We were totally surprised to find out that the opposite was true, and HIV replication was suppressed.”34 Griffin is still exploring the significance of this unusual and incredible interaction between the two viruses.

As Griffin's findings on measles advanced, her career advanced as well. She moved past working under Johnson in his laboratory, and became an independent researcher, while still in Johns Hopkins neurology department. She then became an assistant professor in 1973 and she was an investigator at the prominent Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1975 to 1982.35 She was promoted to associate professor in 1979 and became a full professor in 1986.36 In 1994, she took the position as Chair of the Molecular Microbiology and Immunology Department in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.37

In 2001, Griffin recieved another promotion at Johns Hopkins, when an anonymous donor gave the school a $100 million grant to establish the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute.38 Griffin, recognizing the importance and need for a malaria research institute in the United States, had conceived the idea of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute herself, and even sought out private funding for the institute.39 She was selected to be the founding director of the department until a six-year, nationwide search for a permanent director was completed.40 With 30 million people at risk for malaria, Griffin wanted to tackle the issue with broad efforts from every angle.41 The Center studies almost every aspect of malaria, from the mosquito's DNA composition to human’s immune system.42 Griffin explained this strategy saying, “The vaccine, a new drug or a new insecticide or a new diagnostic agent, any one of those things are not the answer in themselves. We really need to tackle the disease in multiple fronts in order to really have an impact on control.” To do this, she brought together experts from around the world to examine malaria with new and diverse perspectives.43

These multiple strategies included engineering mosquitoes to not be susceptible to malaria and creating a new, faster, and more effective way of diagnosing malaria.44, 45 Griffin reasoned the approach to diagnosing malaria more effectively saying, “We know that probably more than half of diagnoses of malaria are incorrect and then when the drugs are used in those individuals, that just increases the opportunity for drug resistance, [and] the newer drugs being used, artemisinin, are expensive compared to the older drugs.”46 Griffin and her department’s research proved fruitful, and by 2007 Griffin revealed real impacts the program was already having. “From a powerful, new artemisinin-derivative treatment, to a promising, easy-to-use diagnostic test, to advances in a transmission-blocking vaccine and the development of transgenic mosquitoes, [The Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute] is capitalizing on its early investments in people and technological resources. Life-saving discoveries have been made and will continue to be made”, she declared.47 In 2007, Griffin handed over her position as director of The Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute to Nobel Laureate Peter Agre after personally recruiting his talents for the position.48 She happily turned the reigns over to Agre with one less responsibility to her impressively demanding occupation.49

While teaching at and heading the Molecular Microbiology and Immunology Department in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Griffin has still found time to write and edit countless books, papers, and articles and hold membership on numerous scientific boards. Some of Griffin's editing work includes, the Journal of Virology, Field’s Virology, Measles—History and Basic Biology, Fundamental Virology, Intervirology, Microbial Pathogenesis, Archives of Virology, Virology, Virus Research and the Journal of NeuroVirology.50, 51, 52, 53, 54 Aside from editing, she has also authored or co-authored more than 300 scholarly papers and articles.55 She is also a member of numerous scientific boards, as a member of the Board of Directors for the American Type Culture Collection, Chair of the U.S.-Japan Viral Diseases Panel, Member of the Advisory Board for the Southeast Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense, and Chair of the Gordon Research Conference: Viruses and Cells.56

Griffin does not limit her expertise to books and students. As a “world leader in the study of viral pathogenesis,” Griffin shares her knowledge by guest lecturing at universities and events and she teaches the public through interviews and commentary in the media.57 She informs the public and answers many questions citizens have about topics like vaccines and disease prevention through media sources like newspapers and Johns Hopkins media releases.58 Her expertise is particularly valuable during scares over viruses such as the bird flu. Griffin was an asset to the public when she answered questions and dispelled rumors when China had an outbreak of the Bird Flu in the 1990s.59 Her willingness to share her knowledge with the public through so many outlets is extremely beneficial to both Maryland and the world community.

Griffins’ work has not gone unrecognized; she has earned numerous grants, memberships in prestigious science societies, and awards. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Ellison Medical Foundation, and the Dana Foundation are some of the organizations that have awarded Griffin grant money.60, 61 In 2004, she was selected to become a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.62 The Institute of Medicine is a highly esteemed organization that requires a significant obligation of volunteer work and she was notably elected to the Institute of Medicine the same year that her husband, Jack, was elected for his work in neuroscience.63 She was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, until elected chair of the AAAS Medical Sciences Section, in February of 2006.64, 65 Griffin was past president of the Association of Medical School Microbiology Chairs, the American Society for Virology, Interurban Clinical Club and the American Society for Microbiology, which is the biggest and oldest life science organization in the world.66, 67, 68 She is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology, the Infectious Disease Society of America, the Keystone Symposia Scientific Advisory Board, the Delta Omega Alpha Public Health Honor Society of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Standing Committee on Technology Insight-Gauge, Evaluate, and Review (TIGER).69, 70, 71, 72 She was awarded the Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, NINDS, and she was elected co-chair and chair, respectively, for the 2005 and 2007 Gordon Research Conferences on Viruses and Cells.73, 74 Griffin was recognized twice for her importance as a female in the heavily male populated field of science. She is one of just twelve women featured in the “Women in Public Health” website launched by the Johns Hopkins Communications and Public Affairs department and she was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in March 2009.75, 76

Dr. Griffin's work with viruses does far more than just earn her awards; it brings the scientific community closer to winning the battle against disease. Griffin has and will continue to save lives through her research on viruses. As a professor, the 40+ students she has mentored, along with the countless lives she has touched through her work speaking, teaching, editing, writing, and volunteering, will undoubtedly also contribute to Dr. Griffin's noble fight against disease.77
 

Endnotes:

1. Micheal Klag, M.D., MPH., “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
2.  Nick Zagorski, “Profile of Diane E. Griffin.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 16, 2005. Return to text.
3. Ibid. Return to text.
4. Ibid. Return to text.
5. Ibid. Return to text.
6. Ibid. Return to text.
7. Ibid. Return to text.
8. Ibid. Return to text.
9. Ibid. Return to text.
10. “Diane Griffin, M.D., Ph.D.” Pan-American Society of NeuroVirology. http://pasnv.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=12%3Aparticipants&id=42%3Adiane-griffin-md-phd&Itemid=1 Return to text.
11. Ibid. Return to text.
12. Ibid. Return to text.
13. Zagorski, “Profile of Diane E. Griffin.” Return to text.
14. Ibid. Return to text.
15. “About the PNAS Member Editor--Griffin, Diane E.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://nrc88.nas.edu/pnas_search/memberDetails.aspx?ctID=3007695 Return to text.
16. “Diane Griffin, M.D., Ph.D.” Pan-American Society of NeuroVirology.Return to text.
17. Zagorski, “Profile of Diane E. Griffin.” Return to text.
18. “Griffin Elected President of American Society for Microbiology.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. July 5, 2006. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/2006/griffin_asm.html Return to text.
19. Levine, B., Hardwick, J. M., Trapp, B. D., Crawford, T. O., Bollinger, R. C. & Griffin, D. E. (1991) Science 254, 856–860. Return to text.
20. Levine, B. & Griffin, D. E. (1992) J. Virol. 66, 6429–6435. Return to text.
21. Zagorski, “Profile.” Return to text.
22. Ibid. Return to text.
23. Ibid. Return to text.
24. Ibid. Return to text.
25. “The History of Neurovirology and Neuroimmunology at Johns Hopkins.” Johns Hopkins Medicine: Neurovirology and Neuroimmunology Lab. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/research/Nathlab/history_neurovirology_neuroimmunology.html Return to text.
26. Zagorski, “Profile.” Return to text.
27. Ibid. Return to text.
28. Klag,  “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.”  Return to text.
29. Zagorski,  “Profile.” Return to text.
30. “About the PNAS Member Editor--Griffin, Diane E.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Return to text.
31. “Diane Griffin, M.D., Ph.D.” Pan-American Society of NeuroVirology. Return to text.
32. Zagorski, “Profile.” Return to text.
33. Ibid. Return to text.
34. Moss, W. J., Ryon, J. J., Monze, M., Cutts, F., Quinn, T. C. & Griffin, D. E. (2002) J. Infect. Dis. 185 , 1035–1042. Return to text.
35. “Two from Johns Hopkins Elected to National Academy of Sciences.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. April 20, 2004. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/PR_2004/Griffin_NAS.html Return to text.
36. Zagorski, “Profile.”  Return to text.
37. Ibid. Return to text.
38. “Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute Holds Inaugural Scientific Conference.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/PR_2002/malaria_conf.html Return to text.
39. Peter Agre, M.D., “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
40. “Bloomberg School of Public Health Welcomes Peter Agre.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. March 4, 2008. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/2008/agre_welcome.html Return to text.
41. Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, video. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: School at a Glance: Department Chairs. http://www.jhsph.edu/school_at_a_glance/chairs.html Return to text.
42. Zulima Palaci, “Scientists Explore New Approaches to Fight Malaria.” Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. Washington, DC: December 16, 2006. http://malaria.jhsph.edu/news/voa_malaria.html Return to text.
43. “Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute Holds Inaugural Scientific Conference.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Return to text.
44. Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, video. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Return to text.
45. Palaci, “Scientists Explore New Approaches to Fight Malaria.” Return to text.
46. Ibid. Return to text.
47. “Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute Releases Special Report.” Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. October 24, 2007. http://malaria.jhsph.edu/breakingthecycle Return to text.
48. Agre, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Return to text.
49. “Bloomberg School of Public Health Welcomes Peter Agre.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Return to text.
50. “Diane Griffin Named to Institute of Medicine.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. October 18, 2004. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/2004/Griffin_IOM.html Return to text.
51. Diane E. Griffin (EDT) and Michael Oldstone (EDT), Measles History and Basic Biology. Springer Verlag. Dec 1, 2008. Return to text.
52. David M. Knipe, PhD; Peter M. Howley, MD; Diane E. Griffin, MD, PhD; Robert A. Lamb, PhD, ScD; Malcolm A.Martin, MD; Bernard Roizman, ScD; Stephen E. Straus, MD., ed. Field’s Virology. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2007. Return to Text.
53. “Biosketch: Diane Griffin. 2009 AAM Election.” American Academy of Micorbiology. 2009. http://www.asm.org/Academy/index.asp?bid=62550 Return to text.
54. Knipe, David and Griffin, Diane. Fundamental virology. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2001. Return to text.
55. “Diane Griffin Inducted into Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. March 13, 2009. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/2009/griffin_hall_of_fame.html Return to text.
56. “Biosketch: Diane Griffin. 2009 AAM Election.” American Academy of Micorbiology. Return to text.
57. “Feb. 28 Calendar—Lectures.” Washington University in St. Louis. February 28, 2003. http://record.wustl.edu/web/page/normal/1457.html Return to text.
58. Palaci,  “Scientists Explore New Approaches to Fight Malaria.” Return to text.
59. “THE OUTBREAK OF a deadly "bird flu" virus in Hong Kong.” The Sun. Baltimore, Md.: Dec 31, 1997. pg. 12.A. Return to text.
60. Diane E. Griffin.” Maryland Commission for Women. Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame. 12 March 2009.
     http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/educ/exhibits/womenshall/html/griffin.html Return to text.
61. Malaria: Progress, Problems and Plans in the Genomic Era. The Ellison Medical Foundation. http://www.ellisonfoundation.org/awrd.jsp?id=309 Return to text.
62. “Diane Griffin Named to Institute of Medicine.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Return to text.
63. "Institute of Medicine Elects 65 New Members, Five Foreign Associates.” The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Oct. 18, 2004 http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=10182004 Return to text.
64. “Griffin Elected President of American Society for Microbiology.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. July 5, 2006. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/2006/griffin_asm.html Return to text.
65. “Brookmeyer and Griffin Elected to AAAS Section Chair Positions.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. February 23, 2006. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/2006/brookmeyer_griffin.html Return to text.
66. “Diane Griffin, M.D., Ph.D.” Pan-American Society of NeuroVirology.Return to text.
67. Klag, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.”  Return to text.
68. “Griffin Elected President of American Society for Microbiology.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Return to text.
69. "Biosketch: Diane Griffin. 2009 AAM Election.” American Academy of Micorbiology. Return to text.
70. Delta Omega Alpha Chapter Members (Public Health Honor Society). Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. http://www.jhsph.edu/delta_omega/Delta_Omega_Membership_List.html Return to text.
71. “Keystone Symposia Scientific Advisory Board.” Keystone Symposia. http://www.keystonesymposia.org/AboutUs/AdvisoryBoard.cfm Return to text.
72. “Diane Griffin, M.D., Ph.D.” Pan-American Society of NeuroVirology. Return to text.
73. “Biosketch: Diane Griffin.” American Academy of Micorbiology. 2009. Return to text.
74. “School Accolades.” The Magazine of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/magazine/archive/Mag_Fall03/accolades.html Return to text.
75. “New Website Highlights the Contributions of Women in Public Health.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. April 6, 2005. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/2005/womeninpublichealth.html Return to text.
76. “Diane Griffin Inducted into Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Return to text.
77. Thomas Quinn, M.D., “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
 
 
 

Biography written by 2009 summer intern Stephanie Berger.
 
 
 

Return to Dr. Diane E. Griffin's Introductory Page
 
 
 
 


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