The Legacy of Albert B. Sabin
The Sabin Vaccine Institute is founded on the legacy and global vision of one of the pre-eminent scientific figures in the history of medicine, Dr. Albert B. Sabin. Best known as the developer of the oral live virus polio vaccine, Dr. Sabin not only dedicated his entire professional career to the elimination of human suffering though his groundbreaking medical advances, he also waged a tireless campaign against poverty and ignorance throughout his lifetime.
It was in this spirit of commitment and dedication that his longtime friends and colleagues, led by Heloisa Sabin, his widow, and Dr. H.R. Shepherd, the Founding Chairman, established the Sabin Vaccine Institute in 1993 at the time of Dr. Sabin's death.
Dr. Sabin was born on August 26, 1906, in Bialystok, Poland. He emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1921 in order to avoid the persecutions directed against Jews prevalent during that era. He received his M.D. from New York University in 1931 and immediately began research on polio, an acute viral infection that can cause death or paralysis and which had, at the time, reached epidemic proportions both nationwide and around the globe.
Dr. Sabin joined the staff of the Rockefeller Institute in New York City in 1935. Four years later, he moved to the Children's Hospital Research Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his groundbreaking research demonstrated polio viruses not only grow in the nervous tissues, but also live in the small intestines. Introducing this new idea of enteroviruses - viruses that live "in the gut" - to the medical establishment, Dr. Sabin was able to prove poliomyelitis is essentially an infection of the alimentary tract and indicated polio might be prevented by an oral vaccine.
This early work on a poliomyelitis vaccine was interrupted by World War II. In 1941 he joined the U.S. Army Epidemiological Board's Virus Committee and accepted assignments in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. It was during this phase of his career that Dr. Sabin developed vaccines for encephalitis (sleeping sickness), sand-fly fever, and dengue fever. At the end of World War II, he returned to Cincinnati and resumed his research on the polio virus which ultimately led to the development of the oral live polio vaccine, pioneered in collaboration with Russian scientists during the Cold War.
Convinced the polio virus lived primarily in the intestines, Dr. Sabin focused on isolating a mutant form of the polio virus incapable of producing the disease and thereby safe for introduction to the human body. This avirulent virus would reproduce rapidly in the intestines, displacing lethal forms of the polio virus and providing protection from the disease. Dr. Sabin's ultimate vision was to identify a live, safe variant polio virus that could be administered orally to combat poliomyelitis.
Dr. Sabin and his research associates first ingested the live avirulent viruses themselves before experimenting on others. The oral vaccine was first tested outside the USA from 1957 to 1959. Ultimately, a successful Sabin vaccine was used to eradicate polio throughout the world.
From 1970 until 1972, Dr. Sabin served successively as President of the Weizmann Institute of Science and then as a full-time consultant to the U.S. National Cancer Institute in 1974. He became Distinguished Research Professor of Biomedicine at the Medical University of South Carolina from 1974 through 1982, and Senior Expert Consultant at the Fogarty International Center for Advanced Studies in the Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health from 1984 until 1986. In 1986, at the age of 80, he retired from his full-time positions but continued part-time at the Fogarty International Center as a Senior Medical Science Advisor and a lecturer in the United States and abroad.
Dr. Sabin continued to be a powerful force in the international scientific community as medical statesman, consultant, and lecturer until the end of his life. His contributions were not just in the scientific realm but included a more global perspective of humanitarianism. He became an advocate for peace and fought the diseases of ignorance and poverty by espousing the same strategies of mutual trust and international cooperation which led to his conquest of polio.
Dr. Sabin died on March 3, 1993. His wife, Heloisa, died on October 12, 2016. Dr. Sabin and Heloisa are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.