Monday, May 18, 2015

Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs's "Jonas Salk: A Life"

Charlotte D. Jacobs, M.D. is the Ben and A. Jess Shenson Professor of Medicine (Emerita) at Stanford University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new biography, Jonas Salk: A Life, and reported the following:
What is happening on page 99 of Jonas Salk: A Life?

Salk, the most junior scientist in the group which advised the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP) on polio prevention, had just recommended that they undertake a clinical trial of his polio vaccine. His suggestion brought back painful memories. Such an attempt had been made in 1934, and the results had been disastrous. New York scientist Maurice Brodie had made a polio vaccine using presumably killed poliovirus from the spinal cord of infected monkeys. He vaccinated six volunteers and pronounced it safe. At the same time, Philadelphia researcher John Kolmer made a vaccine using a live poliovirus. Having inoculated forty-two monkeys, his two children, and himself, he publicized its success. A deadly polio outbreak had just struck Los Angeles, and the public was clamoring for protection. A race was on to see whose vaccine would be the first to rid the world of polio.

The two scientists conducted trials including over 10,000 children. It appeared to afford little protection, and a number suffered paralysis from the vaccine. The careers of both men plummeted; a few years later, Brodie died from a suspected suicide.

Polio vaccine work was constrained as investigators in the field became leery. Not Jonas Salk. In 1948 he told the NFIP research director, Harry Weaver, that he planned to have a vaccine in five years. “There was nobody like him in those days,” Weaver said. “His approach was entirely different from that which had dominated the field.... He thought big. … He wanted to leap, not crawl. His willingness to shoot the works was made to order for us.” For this Salk would later be rebuffed by the scientific community.
Visit Charlotte Jacobs's website.

My Book, The Movie: Jonas Salk: A Life.

--Marshal Zeringue