For many years the scourge of human existence was a disease called poliomyelitis, or polio. It is caused by a virus that destroys the nervous tissue in the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis. Quite often children seemed to develop this virus after swimming in lakes or pools. Some parents sent their children to a remote mountain area for protection, but not always with favorable results. Children contracted this vicious
malady no matter where they were. It seemed that no one could hide from it.
And that’s why Dr. Jonas Edward Salk — scientist, a bacteriologist, who eventually found a vaccine for this dread disease — became a national hero. Salk was born in 1914 in New York City and received an M.D. from New York University Medical School in 1939.
In 1947, after several years teaching at the University of Michigan, Salk became head of the University of Pittsburgh’s Virus Research Laboratory, where he began his work on the vaccine for polio. He first tested the vaccine on a member of his own family, and it proved effective against the disease.
His vaccine was used throughout the world until 1960, when it was largely supplanted by Albert Sabin’s live-virus vaccine. In 1963 he became director of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and served until 1975. His later efforts concentrated on the search for a vaccine to prevent the nearly always terminal illness resulting from immune deficiency that can lead to AIDS.