Sabin, Albert Bruce

Albert Sabin (1906-1993) developed the "live" polio vaccine, beating rival Jonas Salk's "killed" virus vaccine. Sabin's vaccine is widely used and has saved many from the paralysis associated with polio.

Sabin was born in Bialystock, Poland (then part of Russia) and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1921. He attended New York University, received his medical degree in 1931, and began research on the virus that causes polio. Known at the time as infantile paralysis, polio was a source of much fear because of its ability to cause paralysis and death, especially in infants and young children.

Polio Studies

By 1936 Sabin and his colleagues were able to grow the polio virus in human tissue cultures outside the body. In 1941 Sabin established that the human polio virus enters the body via the digestive tract and not the nose as was then thought. World War II (1939-1945) interrupted Sabin's polio research. While in the Army, he studied several diseases affecting American troops, such as sandfly fever, dengue fever, toxoplasmosis, and encephalitis lethargica. After the war, Sabin returned to polio research.

By 1954 Sabin had developed a vaccine that gave protection against polio using a live virus rather than the killed virus used by Salk. Sabin believed that an attenuated (weakened and harmless) live virus would provide more rapid and longer-lasting protection than the Salk method. As some professional rivalry developed between Salk and Sabin, Sabin persisted in bringing his vaccine to completion. It became available to the public in 1961 following four years of worldwide tests. T


The Sabin vaccine has two advantages over the Salk vaccine. It can be administered orally (by mouth), rather than by injection, and offers protection with a single dose. Today, except for a few special cases, it is the preferred polio vaccine worldwide.

The development of the Sabin vaccine was the result of 20 years of research on the nature, transmission, and distribution of three related virus types. Throughout his professional career, Sabin was known for his tireless and brilliant research. In his later years, Sabin's interests led him to research the possible connection between viruses and human cancer. Sabin died March 3, 1993 at the age of 86.

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