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

sabin albert lasker 300hMonumental Advancement With Polio Vaccine in 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 1954, 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 attacked it in the blood. And, as was most remembered by those receiving it as older children, it was administered in a lump of sugar - so much more palatable than a shot in the arm!

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. Sabin learned that polio took hold in the gut, then worked its way into the nervous system. He also in discovered that there were three strains of polio, so he made his vaccine trivalent, with all of the strains in it. Sabin's vaccine turned out to be longer lasting than Salk's. 

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.

Sabin's vaccine was slow to be accepted in the U.S. as Jonas Salk's vaccine was already prevalent.  So, Sabine went international, working with Mexican and Soviet scientists to perfect and test it.  They sent it around the world where 100 million people received the vaccine. The first tests of Sabin's vaccine in the U.S. began on April 24, 1960, which became known as Sabin Sunday.  The vaccine was given to 160,000 Cincinnati school children. The vaccine erradicated polio in Cincinnati. That success opened the floodgates, especially because it was easier to administer a sugar cube than a shot in the arm. It became the predominate vaccine for almost three decades in the U.S.  Supplanting it in the U.S. was an enhanced polio vaccine. It is now given to children in 4 doses before they reach school age. 

In 1988 the Rotary Foundation made polio erradication one of their major humanitarian goals. Joining with UNICEF and the World Health Organization, they have worked tirelessly to winnow the number of yearly cases to only a few thousand worldwide. They primarily have used Sabin's sugar cube vaccine. Because the only host the polio virus can live in is humans, they hope someday soon to erradicate it completely as a disease, and no child will ever again be paralyzed by it. 

Written by science writer, Tim Anderson

Lives Saved:  Over 1,000,000
How Well Do Vaccines Work?
In 1953 there were 35,000 cases of polio in the U.S. After 5 years of vaccinations, in 1961 there were 161!

Snippets
Albert Sabin Quotes
No matter how good you are, you cannot be a scientist unless you learn to live with frustration.

My own experience of over 60 years in biomedical research amply demonstrated that without the use of animals and of human beings, it would have been impossible to acquire the important knowledge needed to prevent much suffering and premature death not only among humans but also among other animals.

A scientist who is also a human being cannot rest while knowledge which might be used to reduce suffering rests on the shelf.

Vaccines are Ubiquitous & Omnipresent Throughout Our Lives
It is bizarre that vaccines are controversial, when virtually everyone has had vaccines. The average person born today may get 70+ vaccines in their lifetime. 

  • There are 31 childhood vaccines (counting booster shots). Over 90% of people have received some of these vaccines.

Virtually everyone constantly benefits from vaccines

  • Did you know that all beef, poultry, and pork you eat comes from vaccinated animals?
  • And that all horses, dogs, cats, and zoo animals are vaccinated?
  • Who wants to live in a world where you can’t pet your friends’ dog because it may not have been vaccinated, and may have rabies?

Key Contributors
Jonas Salk
Albert Sabin
John Enders
Frederick Robbins
Thomas Weller

Links to More About the Scientist & the Science
Hauck Center for the Albert B. Sabin Archives
http://sabin.uc.edu/
Albert Sabin's Wikipedia Page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Sabin