ICE | The Israel Chemist and Chemical Engineer | Issue 6

31 The Israel Chemist and Chemical Engineer Issue 6 · July 2020 · Av 5780 History of Chemistry Articles Jonas Salk (1914-1995) and the first vaccine against polio Bob Weintraub POB 5979, Beersheva 8415901 Email: [email protected] Inactivated vaccine Jonas Salk: “The first moment that a question occurred to me that did influence my future career, occurred in my second year at medical school… we were told in one lecture that it was possible to immunize against diphtheria and tetanus (bacterial infections) by the use of chemically treated toxins, or toxoids. And the following lecture, we were told that for immunization against a virus disease, you have to experience the infection, and that you could not induce immunity with the so-called ‘killed’ or inactivated, chemically treated virus preparation. Well, somehow, that struck me. What struck me was that both statements couldn’t be true. And I asked why this was so, and the answer that was given was in a sense, ‘because.’ There was no satisfactory answer. It was in a sense a paradox. It didn’t make sense and that question persisted in my mind. I had an opportunity to spend time in elective periods in my last year in medical school, in a laboratory that was involved in studies on influenza. The influenza virus had just been discovered about a few years before that. And I saw the opportunity at that time to test the question as to whether we could destroy the virus infectivity and still immunize. And so, by carefully designed experiments, we found it was possible to do so. That was how that particular line of investigation occurred, and it influenced my career. I interrupted those studies because I graduated from medical school and interned. The war broke out, influenza was important, and I continued on in research in that field, developed a flu vaccine, and that led to all sorts of other things… The principle that I tried to establish was really that it was not necessary to run the risk of infection, which would have been the case if one were to try to develop an attenuated or weakened polio virus vaccine. And so it seemed to me the safer and more certain way to proceed.” [1] Abstract Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine against polio. When asked who owns the patent on the vaccine, Salk answered: “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” [J. S. Smith, Patenting the Sun, William Morrow, New York, 1990.] The Salk vaccine induces immunity from an inactivated or killed-virus. Salk: “I perceived the situation this way: since successful killed-virus vaccines had not yet been developed, it was simply assumed that it couldn’t be done. As we now know, it can be done, but in order to determine why it had not yet been done, it was necessary to think about it first, to construct hypotheses and theories that then guided the experimental research.” [P. Weintraub, ed., The Omni Interviews , Ticknor & Fields, NY, 1984.] BobWeintraub was born in Brooklyn, New York  andmade aliyah in 1975 to Beer Sheva, where he remained. He earned the PhD in Physical Chemistry from MIT and the Diploma in Library Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He held positions in scientific and technical librarianship in industry, hospital and academic institutions. He is now retired.  He has an interest in the history of chemistry.