Sarah Stewart

Polyoma Virus Vaccine

Sarah Stewart's Life From Birth

Born: August 16, 1905 in Jalisco, Mexico

Died: 1976 From stomach Cancer

At age 5, Sarah returned to the U.S.A. with her parents.

She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1927, then in 1930 she received her MS in Microbiology at the University of Massachusetts. She later went on to complete her PhD at the University of Chicago in 1939, all while working at the National Institue of Health. Here she published several papers on anaerobic bacteria.

She wanted to study viruses and cancer, but she wasn't qualified according to directors at NIH and NCI (National Institute of Cancer). She left and taught bacteriology at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She became the first woman to graduate at 39. She then returned to NCI to finally launch her viral, cancer research career.


No one in the science world believed or even truly knew that there was a connection between viruses and cancer. Oncologists didn't care about viruses in this field until, Dr. Bernice Eddy and Sarah Stewart took on the experiment in 1957.

Dr. Bernice Eddy's contribution:

She also, trained as a bacteriologist at the University of Chicago and worked at NIH Biologics center Control Laboratories in Maryland. When she was approached by Stewart about helping her with the experiment she immediately agreed.

Stewart's Contribution to Science

Contribution to Science: Together Stewart and Eddy showed that the virus they were working with caused 20 different tumors in mice, and could cause tumors in other small animals. They called the virus polyoma (many tumors) and they named it the SE polyomavirus. They also, showed that the virus caused cell necrosis (death of cells) and proliferation in cell culture.

Stewart then became medical director of the NCI Laboratory of Oncology where she spent the rest of her life researching several oncongenic viruses.


AWARDS: Her contributions to the study of viral causes of cancer earned her the Federal Womans Award, presented by Lyndon Johnson in 1965.


Fulghieri, Carl, and Sharon Bloom. "Sarah Elizabeth Stewart." Emerging Infectious Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.