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            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

"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)
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