The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: An Example of International Cooperation

Last week, I discussed parts of Dr. Saul Benison’s book on Tom Rivers that related to Dr. Sabin. One thing I didn’t include was when Dr. Benison asked Dr. Rivers about how countries were chosen to conduct field trials for the Sabin vaccine. Dr. Rivers said, “No one chose the country. Generally, it was the public health officials or virologists of a given country that did the choosing, and usually for reasons of their own.”[1] Dr. Rivers then proceeded to discuss how Czechoslovakia came to be part of the field trials. Instead of giving you Dr. Rivers’ brief account of it, I thought I would share some letters that tell the story. It’s actually a great example of international cooperation.

Letter from Dr. Payne to Dr. Sabin regarding the interest in the oral polio vaccine by the Czechoslovak health authorities, May 1958.

In May 1958, Dr. A. M.-M. Payne, Chief of the Endemo-epidemic Diseases Section of the World Health Organization, wrote to Dr. Sabin and included a copy of a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Czechoslovakia. The letter from Czechoslovakia said, “[T]here are favourable conditions for organising a highly specialized and extensive epidemiological and virological control of large scale immunisation with living vaccine.” They hoped to begin working on the research program with Dr. Sabin’s virus strains in later on in 1958.[2] With regard to this potential research program, Dr. Payne wrote the letter to Dr. Sabin seen on the left, where he said, “I believe that subject to satisfactory information regarding the proposed programme and the persons responsible for carrying it out, we should if possible support this proposal.”[3] Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: An Example of International Cooperation

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Sabin and Rivers

Here is a photograph of Dr. Sabin and Dr. Rivers found in our collection.

I finally had a chance to pick up Dr. Saul Benison’s oral history memoir on Dr. Thomas Rivers that I briefly mentioned in a previous blog post, so I thought I would share some information in the book that readers may find interesting. First, I wanted to share a little bit about Thomas Rivers. According to the American Philosophical Society, Dr. Thomas Rivers was an important virologist who was the director of the Rockefeller Institute from 1937-1955, and served as the Medical Director and Vice President for Medical Affairs for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis during his career. Today, Dr. Rivers is considered the father of modern virology.[1] Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Sabin and Rivers

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Dr. Sabin’s Name, Take 2

This "Sabin Street" sign is located on the campus of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Sabin project student assistant Megan Ryan and I have been working very hard on converting the Sabin collection inventory into a web-based finding aid for the archives, which will be accessible online next week. For those of you that don’t know, according to the Society of American Archivists, a finding aid is “a tool that facilitates the discovery of information within a collection of records,” or “a description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.” In the case of the Albert B. Sabin archives, this finding aid will help users across the globe have a better understanding of the materials we have in our collection, as well as help the Winkler Center provide access to the collection to its users. We have used the Encoded Archival Description (EAD) format, which is the standard used by archival repositories worldwide and endorsed by the Society of American Archivists. Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Dr. Sabin’s Name, Take 2

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: World Polio Day

Found in the Sabin Archives - Dr. Sabin receives “Rotary Award for World Understanding” at the 1985 RI Convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

October 24 is World Polio Day, which is sponsored by Rotary International. Since 1985, with the implementation of the PolioPlus program, this organization has been working to end polio throughout the world. As I had mentioned in my first blog post, there are only four countries in the whole world – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – where polio is still considered “endemic.” Due to the massive effort of Rotary International and its partners, through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, less than 1,700 polio cases were reported in 2009. World Polio Day is an effort to bring attention to the fight against polio. Rotary International’s “End Polio Now” website states, “As long as polio threatens even one child anywhere in the world, children everywhere remain at risk.” Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: World Polio Day

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: A Polio Research Collaboration

Saul Benison, PhD

Recently, I was reading a chapter on the history of polio research by Saul Benison, a former professor of history at the University of Cincinnati. Prior to coming to Cincinnati, Dr. Benison held a notable position as the historian for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (see a previous blog about this organization). During this time, he wrote a memoir of virologist Thomas Rivers, which received much acclaim when it was published in 1967. While at Cincinnati, Dr. Benison worked extensively on a biography – really an oral history – about Dr. Sabin, but this book was never published.

Dr. Benison’s chapter on polio research began in 1907 with Dr. Simon Flexner and discussed over 50 years of poliomyelitis research. Of course, no history of this disease can be covered without discussing Dr. Sabin. In one part of the chapter, Benison recalled a 1956 conference sponsored by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which gathered scientists together to help Dr. Sabin in “choosing stable nonpathogenic virus strains” for the oral polio vaccine (p. 331-32). Dr. Benison wrote that the information that Dr. Sabin received from this conference allowed him to “successfully [adapt] Dr. Renato Dulbecco’s plaquing techniques for the selection of attenuated virus strains suitable” for the vaccine (p. 332). Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: A Polio Research Collaboration

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: October 6, 1956

A recent Wired.com blog post highlighted an important day in the development of the oral polio vaccine: October 6, 1956. On this date, Dr. Sabin gave an invited paper at the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine meeting held in Cincinnati. His paper was called “Vaccination against Poliomyelitis – Present and Future.” It was at this meeting that Dr. Sabin reported that he had developed a polio vaccine using three attenuated poliovirus strains, which provided an “immunizing, symptomless infection” when it was administered orally to over 50 volunteers. He also announced that his live-virus polio vaccine was ready to be tested on “increasingly larger numbers of humans both in this country and in association with qualified investigators abroad.”[1]

Front page of program from Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine meeting, October 6, 1956

In the days following this meeting, several newspapers covered the contents of his paper, with headlines such as:

  • “Live Polio Vaccine Found – Cinti’s Dr. Sabin Develops Oral Serum,” Cincinnati Times-Star 10/6/1956
  • “One-Dose Oral Vaccine Against Polio Revealed,” The Washington Post and Times Herald 10/7/1956
  • “Live Vaccine Promises Lifetime Polio Immunity,” The Sunday Star (Washington D.C.) 10/7/1956
  • “New, Take-by-Mouth Polio Vaccine Found,” The Miami Herald 10/7/1956

Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: October 6, 1956

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: The Sabin and Salk "Feud"

In Hal Hellman’s Greatest Feuds in Medicine: Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever, one chapter is devoted to the dispute between Dr. Albert Sabin and Dr. Jonas Salk. Hellman chose this dispute as one of the ten that had “some special drama or scientific interest, that in some way influenced the future course of medical science, or that have had repercussions in our own day” (p. xiii). The chapter briefly discusses the history of polio and the development of the two vaccines, as well as the aftermath. Hellman argued that “Salk deserved better treatment” from his fellow scientists (p. 141). However, he also wrote, “But we must remember that in the Sabin-Salk feud there is no real victor” (p. 140).

Letter from Dr. Sabin to Dr. Bauer, May 1953

In his analysis of the Sabin-Salk “feud,” Hellman mentions an incident in early 1953, where information about the killed-virus vaccine was leaked to the public prior to the publication of an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The newspaper articles about Salk’s vaccine gave the public hope in the fight against polio. On the other hand, these same newspaper articles painted Salk as a “glory hound” in the eyes of his fellow scientists (p. 136). Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: The Sabin and Salk "Feud"

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis

The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now known as the March of Dimes) played an important role in the research and development of Dr. Sabin’s oral polio vaccine. According to the March of Dimes, Dr. Sabin received around $1.5 million to support his research on polio from 1952 to 1961. Our collection has a couple of boxes labeled “NFIP,” as well as letters scattered throughout the collection from notables such as Basil O’Connor, Donald W. Gudakunst, and Thomas Rivers. I thought I’d share a little about the NFIP and some material we have.

Photograph of President Franklin Roosevelt and Mr. Basil O’Connor, 1944. Courtesy of the March of Dimes.

Founded in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis’s mission was to “‘lead, direct, and unify’ the fight against polio, a paralyzing viral disease.” The leader of this organization was Basil O’Connor, who was president for over 30 years. (Both of these men can be seen in the photo to the right.) The NFIP was created to raise funds for poliomyelitis research for every stage of the disease, unlike the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation (also founded by Roosevelt), which worked to improve the quality of life of those who had already been affected by polio. One of the major NFIP fundraisers was the “March of Dimes,” which urged all people to send at least a dime to support President Roosevelt in the fight against polio. Researchers such as Dr. Sabin and Dr. Jonas Salk benefited from fundraising efforts such as this because of the grant money they received from the NFIP. Over the years since the NFIP was founded, its name has changed to the March of Dimes, and its mission has evolved to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. (See the History of the March of Dimes for more information.) Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Spaghetti and Cherry Soup

Early on in the digitization project, I found a couple of folders that referred to interviews with Dr. Sabin that resulted in book chapters about him. These folders that contained correspondence between Dr. Sabin and the authors provided some insight. Today, I wanted to share a little about this in the blog.

Recipe for Spaghetti and Corned Beef a la Sabin, 1966

The first that I came across was a book by Theodore Berland called The Scientific Life (1962). Dr. Sabin is featured in Chapter 5, called “It Is Never Either-Or.” The second chapter I found was in a book called The Virus that Ate Cannibals (1981) by Carol Eron. Her chapter on Dr. Sabin was called “The Sculptor.” Both of these authors wrote to Dr. Sabin saying they wanted to write a book for the general reader was similar to the book Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif, which Dr. Sabin had said was an influential book on his life and career. Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Spaghetti and Cherry Soup

The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Trip to Brazil, 1980

Dr. Sabin's Statement to the press regarding his trip to Brazil, April 1980

Recently, I have been reading Polio, which is a collection of essays edited by Thomas M. Daniel and Frederick C. Robbins. Among the many interesting essays in the book is one by João Baptista Risi, Jr. He describes the different mass vaccination campaigns in Brazil, and in doing so, he discusses Dr. Sabin’s trip to the country in 1980 and its result.

The essay stated that Dr. Sabin offered his assistance to the Brazilian Minister of Health to implement the national vaccination days plan, using the oral polio vaccine. Dr. Sabin was a well-known figure in Brazil and had helped other countries implement vaccination campaigns. According to Risi, “[Sabin] was welcomed with great enthusiasm, as we looked forward to receiving technical advice on particular issues, and his support was necessary to insure public acceptance. Very surprisingly, however, he paid less attention to the proposed vaccination plan and focused special interest on defining more precisely the magnitude of the problem of poliomyelitis in Brazil” (p. 172). Apparently, Dr. Sabin “did not accept objections to his proposal” and left Brazil on an unpleasant note (p. 172). Continue reading The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Trip to Brazil, 1980