Salk, Jonas


Salk, Jonas
▪ 1996

      U.S. physician and medical researcher (b. Oct. 28, 1914, New York, N.Y.—d. June 23, 1995, La Jolla, Calif.), was the creator of the first effective vaccine against poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis). Salk first conducted research on viruses in the 1930s when he was a medical student at New York University, and in the 1940s he helped develop flu vaccines at the University of Michigan. He began his studies of polio at the University of Pittsburgh, Pa., where in 1947 he had become head of viral research. Polio epidemics had been intensifying until in 1952, the worst year, about 58,000 cases were reported in the U.S. alone, and more than 3,000 died from the disease. It had been thought that live forms of the poliovirus were necessary for successful immunization, but Salk was convinced that inactivated virus would work. With financial help from the March of Dimes campaign of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, he developed an injectable inactivated-virus vaccine. He conducted the first human trials on former polio patients and on himself and his family, and then in 1954 clinical trials began on some 1.8 million U.S. schoolchildren. On April 12, 1955, the announcement was made that the vaccine was effective and safe. A nationwide inoculation campaign began, and by 1962 the number of new cases of polio had dropped to approximately 1,000. Although in the U.S. the Salk vaccine was superseded about that time by the oral live-virus vaccine developed by Albert B. Sabin, the former remained in use in many countries. By 1995 polio had been eliminated from the entire Western Hemisphere and was targeted for global eradication. In 1963 Salk opened the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. In later years he began research aimed at developing vaccines for multiple sclerosis and AIDS, and at the time of his death a vaccine to prevent the development of AIDS in HIV-infected persons was being tested in a small clinical trial. Among the many awards Salk received during his career were the French Legion of Honor (chevalier, 1955; officer, 1976), the Albert Lasker Award (1956), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977).

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Universalium. 2010.

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