Dr. Ho Wang Lee

Dr. Ho Wang Lee M.D.,Ph.D.

1994 in Public Health

Dr. Ho Wang Lee is responsible for a watershed discovery, the identification of Hantaan virus, the etiology of the famous Korean haemorrhagic Fever (haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome). This discovery prompted methods for studying the Hantaan Virus in vitro resulting in genetic mapping, knowledge of the global distribution of the virus, the discovery of at least five closely related hantaviruses, as well as information on the epidemiology, epizootology and ecology these viruses, and the imminent availability of vaccines, one of which was prepared by Dr. Lee.
The discovery of the agent of Korea haemorrhagic fever eluded a generation of the world’s best virologist who committed enormous resources into a search mission which began in 1950 after a large number of American servicemen died of this disease during the Korea War. Dr. Lee’s successful method was the epitome of ingenuity. Reasoning from epidemiological studies which tended to implicate a field mouse in an unknown chain of transmission, Dr. Lee and his colleagues gathered tissues from wild-caught rodents from endemic areas and rodents of the same species from an island off Korea which did not have record of Korea haemorrhagic fever. Using fluorescent antibody methods, the “positive” and “negative” issues were stained with antibodies from patients convalescing from the fever. The particular genius of Dr. Lee was to stain lung tissue which was an organ often ignored by other researchers.
Dr. Lee’s discovery led to the development of a workable assay for antigen and antibody. Antigen-negative susceptible rodents could be infected from materials thought to contain virus and the first recovery system of Hantann virus became available. With hundreds of thousands of cases of haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome occuring annually in China while related syndromes occurring across Asia to Western Europe, Korea haemorrhagic fever is one of mankind’s major infectious diseases. Discovery of the agent has illuminated an entire field of study and promises a vaccine which only a few years ago seemed an impossible dream.
Dr. Ho Wang Lee graduated with an M.D. from Seoul National University and received a Ph.D. from University of Minnesota. He was appointed Professor of Microbiology at Seoul National University College of Medicine between 1954-73, became Director of the Institute for Viral Diseases, Korea University, between 1973-94 and has been Director of the ASAN Institute for Life Sciences, Republic of Korea since 1994.