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Sabin, Albert

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Albert Sabin

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Albert Sabin
(August 26, 1906 - March 3, 1993)
Born in Russia
Year of Discovery: 1957

Image Courtesy: Lasker FoundationMonumental Advancement With Polio Vaccine on a Sugar Cube

Albert Sabin developed the live poliovirus vaccine that made eradication of the disease a possibility. Sabin discovered that children living in impoverished urban areas with poor sanitation seemed to contract polio much less often than those living in wealthier areas. This led Sabin to develop a theory that these children either contracted the viral infection as infants (when they received partial immunity transferred from their mothers) or were infected by a weakened strain of the virus due to the poor sanitary conditions. Sabin believed the infection produced a lasting immunity in the children without the devastating symptoms. It was this critical insight that led Sabin to pursue a vaccine created from weak, but "live" strains of the poliovirus. In 1957, Sabin successfully developed such a vaccine. To ensure its safety, Sabin and his colleagues took the vaccine themselves prior to testing it on others. While Jonas Salk had already developed a killed virus vaccine, Sabin's was in many ways better. It killed the virus in the gut, where the virus multiplied and attacked, whereas Salk's vaccine did not. And, as was most remembered by those receiving it, it was administered at first on a lump of sugar or in a teaspoonful of syrup, as opposed to a shot.

Albert Sabin learned at an early age that life is full of challenges. Born to Jewish parents in 1906 in Poland, he fled with his family to the United States in 1921 to escape anti-Semitism. Perhaps it was this early struggle against unfair oppression that led Sabin to a career dedicated to fighting an even more sinister form of oppression: infectious disease. Sabin received his medical degree from New York University in 1931 and moved to Cincinnati Children's Hospital beginning in 1939. He studied a variety of diseases, including pneumonia, encephalitis, toxoplasmosis, sandfly fever, dengue fever and cancer. But he became captivated by the polio virus.

During the first half of the 20th century, no illness inspired more dread and panic than did polio. It came in epidemics and mainly infected children in the summer, creating great scares for parents. Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. Most infected patients recover, but in a minority of patients, the virus attacks the nervous system. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

By the time the first tests of Sabin's vaccine occurred in the U.S., on "Sabin Sunday," April 24, 1960, 80 million people worldwide had received the vaccine. The test opened the floodgates, and between 1962 and 1964 about 100 million people in the U.S. received Sabin's vaccine. In 1972 Sabin took one more step to assure his discovery would serve the greatest good. Forsaking any potential for personal gain, Sabin donated his strains of the poliovirus to the World Health Organization, to guarantee their ready availability to developing nations. Dr. Sabin retired at the age of 80, but continued to work part-time as a Senior Medical Science Advisor for the Fogarty International Center. Failing health forced the 82-year-old scientist into full retirement in 1988. Dr. Sabin died in 1993 at the age of 86 and he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.



Introduction by Tim Anderson


Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

Hauck Center for the Albert B. Sabin Archives: compilation of biographies: article on Sabin and Salk:

Wikipedia entry:

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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: Polio Vaccine
John Enders
Revolutionized virology - did pivotal early polio vaccine work and developed the measles vaccine.
Frederick Robbins
Worked with Enders on developing tissue cell culture techniques for viruses.
Jonas Salk
Developed the first vaccine to fight against the epidemic killer polio virus, using tissue cell culture techniques pioneered by Enders.
Thomas Francis Jr
Influenza and polio vaccine - taught Jonas Salk critical vaccine development technique.
Thomas Weller
Came up with several breakthrough ideas in the development of tissue cell culture techniques for viruses.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science