Jonas Edward Salk, developer of the first successful polio vaccine, was born on October 28, 1914 in New York City. The eldest son of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Salk worked after school to help pay for his education at City University of New York, and later at New York University School of Medicine. he was the first member of his family to attend college. he graduated from nyu in 1938.
at nyu salk he had begun working with microbiologist thomas francis, jr., who was looking for an influenza vaccine. They worked together and actually developed a vaccine that was used in the military during World War II. In 1942, Salk went to the University of Michigan on a fellowship and soon rose to the position of Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, or the study of the causes and control of epidemics. He continued his research in the field and began teaching at the University of Pittsburgh in 1947.
While working there, Salk developed a relationship with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes). Since the turn of the century, outbreaks of polio had become more frequent: 57,628 cases were recorded in 1952. He saw a great need for a polio vaccine and decided to devote his research to that cause for the next eight years. his hard work paid off. In 1952, he announced the development of a test vaccine for polio, or polio.
His vaccine was composed of “killed” poliovirus, which retained the ability to immunize without risk of infecting the patient. he first inoculated volunteers, including himself, his wife, and his three children, with a polio vaccine made from this killed virus. everyone who got the test vaccine started making antibodies against the disease, but no one got sick. In 1954 he published his findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association and tests were carried out nationwide. Salk’s former mentor, Thomas Francis, Jr., led the vaccination of nearly two million school-age children, and the results demonstrated that Salk’s polio vaccine is safe and effective.
news of the discovery was made public in april 1955 and salk was considered a miracle worker. he had no desire to personally benefit from the discovery, but simply wanted the vaccine to spread as widely as possible. In 1963, he established the Salk Institute for Biological Studies at La Jolla in 1963. He had received a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation and support from the March of Dimes, and considered several sites for the Institute. But in 1960, San Diego Mayor Charles Dail, who had had polio, lured Salk to San Diego, offering him 70 acres of land just west of the University of California, San Diego. salk decided that was the place to go. He left his position at the University of Pittsburgh in 1964 to devote himself full time to his institute and the study of infectious diseases.
a few years later, a vaccine made from “live” poliovirus by albert sabin gained widespread use because it could be given orally, whereas salk’s vaccine required an injection. The few new cases of polio reported in the United States in recent years were actually caused by the “live” vaccine that was purported to prevent them. The Salk vaccine has recently begun to replace the Sabin (oral) vaccine in countries like the United States, where the polio virus has been eliminated. Salk’s last years were spent searching for an AIDS vaccine. he died on June 23, 1995 at the age of 80. he was director of the salk institute until his death.