AKA Albert Bruce Sabin
Birthplace: Bialystok, Poland
Location of death: Washington, DC
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Developed oral polio vaccine
Military service: US Army (1943-46, Lt. Col.)
American scientist Albert Sabin conducted advanced research into numerous diseases, including cancer, dengue fever, encephalitis, pneumonia, and sand-fly fever. His most important work involved poliomyelitis, or polio, a disease caused by virus infection of the central nervous system, leading to brain stem and spinal cord inflammation and, eventually, muscle paralysis. Occurring mostly in children, the disease was considered a crisis in early and mid-20th century America, and it left many thousands of children crippled, paralyzed, or dead.
Beginning in the 1940s, Sabin conducted research that showed polio is caused by a virus that attacks people through their digestive tracts, and further studies showed that some people had antibodies in their blood that left them resistant to polio. Sabin surmised that these lucky people had at some point been infected with a weak strain of the polio virus — weak enough that their defensive systems was able to adapt and repulse the illness. Sabin's next step was to collect and weaken strains of the virus, in hopes that he could engineer a vaccine which would similarly protect people from stronger versions of the disease.
In 1957, Sabin successfully created an oral polio vaccine, which had two major advantages over the injectable vaccine that had been developed a few years earlier by Jonas Salk. First, Sabin's vaccine was taken by simply swallowing it as syrup or a pill, making distribution far easier than Salk's injected virus, which necessitated health professionals be present to administer shots. Second, while either vaccine prevented most people from contracting polio, the bioconstruction of Salk's vaccine sometimes allowed people to carry the virus without showing symptoms themselves, and thus the spread of the disease was not blocked — a problem not present with Sabin's vaccine.
Sabin first tested his virus on himself, then on volunteers, with very promising results. Researchers and regulators in America, however, were slow to respond to his breakthrough — Salk had already been hailed by media as a hero, and many professionals and laypersons believed that the disease was under control. When the testing procedure in America languished, Sabin turned to the Soviet Union, which introduced his vaccine all across the USSR in 1959, with excellent results.
For years, the debate between Sabin and Salk was anything but academic. Both scientists charged that tests of their respective vaccines had been hampered by underhanded political tactics from the opposing scientific camp. Salk's pricked vaccine was inert, a killed and thus harmless polio viruses, while Sabin's oral vaccine contained live but weakened polio virus. Sabin's backers argued that this made Sabin's vaccine more effective, so it would virtually always trigger the desired defensive response, while Salk's supporters argued that it put children at risk of contracting the disease through the vaccination. Salk had the deep financial backing of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (the March of Dimes), while Sabin worked with less lucrative funding, primarily from the Children's Hospital Research Foundation in Cincinnati. Salk's vaccine was introduced in the US in 1955, six years before Sabin's, but when both vaccines were available the superiority of Sabin's vaccine quickly became apparent.
Sabin also made headlines in 1976, when he criticized the Ford administration's plan for vaccinating all adults against a projected pandemic of the swine flu, stating publicly that he thought the swine flu risk had been exaggerated. The feared swine flu crisis of that year never materialized, and numerous lawsuits claimed that the vaccination itself caused serious health repercussions among certain populations. At Sabin's death in 1993, Salk issued a statement praising Sabin's contributions to the eradication of polio. The last known case of the disease in America was reported in 1979.
Father: Jacob Sabin (textile worker)
Mother: Tillie Krugman
Wife: Sylvia Tregillus (m. 12-Sep-1935, d. 1966, two daughters)
Daughter: Amy Horn
Wife: Jane Warner (m. 1967, div. 1971)
Wife: Heloisa Dunshee de Abranches (m. 1972, until his death)
High School: Paterson High School, Paterson, NJ (1924)
University: BS Microbiology, New York University (1928)
Medical School: MD, New York University (1931)
Teacher: Rockefeller University (1935-39)
Scholar: Children's Hospital Research Foundation (1939-43)
Teacher: Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati (1939-43)
Scholar: Children's Hospital Research Foundation (1946-70)
Professor: Research Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati (1946-60)
Professor: Dist. Research Professor, University of Cincinnati (1960-71)
Administrator: Weizmann Institute of Science (1970-72)
Professor: Biomedicine, Medical University of South Carolina (1974-82)
Lasker Award 1965
National Medal of Science 1970
Presidential Medal of Freedom 1986
USSR Order of Friendship among Peoples 1986
National Institutes of Health Senior Expert Consultant (1984-88)
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
National Academy of Sciences 1951
National Cancer Institute
National Research Council
World Health Organization
Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society
Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society
Naturalized US Citizen 1930
Paralyzed advancing, 1983-92
Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #3435 (87¢, issued 8-Mar-2006)
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