visit jonas salk pge End Of An Era: Polio Vaccine Pioneer Jonas Salk Dies Millions of people around the world probably best recognize the name of Jonas Salk - who died at age 80 of congestive heart failure on June 23 in La Jolla, Calif. - as that of the discoverer of the first successful polio vaccine. But various scientists and physicians say that they will remember the pioneering researcher in equal measure for his passion and vision in everything he undertook. AHEAD OF HIS TIME: Colleagues remember Jonas Salk for carrying the courage of his scientific convictions. -------------------------------------- Referring to Salk's work both with the polio vaccine and, in later years, with the AIDS vaccine, Donald Francis, formerly an official of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and now a clinical scientist at Genentech Inc. in South San Francisco, Calif., avows, "Jonas was - in his own words - a change agent ahead of his time. "He had a wonderful spirit in the face of the most daunting circumstances," adds the AIDS researcher, whose personal association with Salk dates to the 1980s, when Francis was CDC's AIDS adviser for the state of California. "Once he had an idea, he wouldn't listen to the naysayers." "Jonas brought his own personal style and passion into whatever he did," concurs David Schwartz, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University. "No meeting could ever be dull if he were around." In approaching the problem of AIDS, he says that Salk "was ahead of the times: While most people were looking at just the outer envelope of the virus in order to produce vaccines, he got people to thinking about looking at the whole virus and all its proteins." Salk was also instrumental in "stirring discussion and reinvigorating the concept of therapeutic vaccines against AIDS" in addition to preventive vaccines, adds Schwartz. It was this same far-sightedness during the late 1940s and 1950s that led him to develop the polio vaccine. While the prevailing trend among researchers was to use live but weakened forms of the infectious agent to vaccinate against a disease, Salk attempted to induce immunity to polio with "killed," or inactivated, virus. In 1954, within three years of first proposing the idea, he proceeded to test his vaccine in clinical trials and, by April 1955, had gained federal approval for public use of the vaccine. Although the vaccine proved to be dramatically successful - by 1961 the incidence of polio had dropped by 95 percent - Salk came up for considerable criticism from other scientists for failing to publish his safety data and moving too quickly on using the vaccine. "It's a shame that all the controversy buried the real accomplishments," comments Francis. "The sad thing is that he never got the Nobel Prize for his work - he developed a technology rather than making a fundamental discovery." The vaccine was never patented, and Salk personally made no money from this discovery. Born in New York City in 1914, Salk obtained an M.D. degree from New York University College of Medicine in 1939, and interned at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York for two years before turning to research in virology at the University of Michigan. In 1947 he became the director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, where he began his work with the polio virus. In 1960 he founded the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, with funding from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which was also his ally in the polio vaccine efforts, and a gift of land from the city of San Diego. Dedicated to pursuing research in various areas of the life sciences, the institute over the years has attracted some of the country's top scientific talent, including Nobel laureate Francis Crick, who has taken over as director. "Jonas always said that his special vision for the institute was as a place to do research on understanding humans as a whole," recalls Walter Eckhart, director of the Armand Hammer Center for Cancer Biology at the institute. "He placed a very strong emphasis on the neurosciences as one of the keys to gaining this understanding." Salk's attitude carried over to the institute: According to the newsletter Science Watch, it has consistently ranked among the highest-impact laboratories in the country for neurosciences in recent years. "I always had a feeling of [Salk] as a person of vision," recounts Eckhart, who came to the institute as a postdoctoral fellow in 1965 and has been there ever since. "He had a real appreciation of people and always encouraged them to realize their dreams." - Neeraja Sankaran ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- (The Scientist, Vol:9, #15, pg.19 , July 24, 1995) (Copyright © The Scientist, Inc.) WE WELCOME YOUR OPINION. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO COMMENT ON THIS STORY, PLEASE WRITE TO US AT EITHER ONE OF THE FOLLOWING ADDRESSES: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com The Scientist, 3600 Market Street, Suite 450, Philadelphia, PA 19104 U.S.A.