Albert Sabin

Albert Sabin bigraphy, stories - Physician and epidemiologist

Albert Sabin : biography

August 26, 1906 – March 3, 1993

Albert Bruce Sabin (August 26, 1906 – March 3, 1993) was an Polish American medical researcher best known for having developed an oral polio vaccine.

Life and career

Sabin was born in Białystok, Russian Empire (today Poland), to Jewish parents, Jacob and Tillie Krugman Saperstein. In 1922 he immigrated with his family to America. In 1930 he became a naturalized citizen of the United States and changed his name to Sabin.

Sabin received a medical degree from New York University in 1931. He trained in internal medicine, pathology and surgery at Bellevue Hospital in New York City from 1931–1933. In 1934 he conducted research at The Lister Institute for Preventive Medicine in England, then joined the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University). During this time he developed an intense interest in research, especially in the area of infectious diseases. In 1939 he moved to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. During World War II he was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and helped develop a vaccine against Japanese encephalitis. Maintaining his association with Children’s Hospital, by 1946 he had also become the head of Pediatric Research at the University of Cincinnati. At Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital, Sabin supervised the fellowship of Robert M. Chanock, whom he called his "star scientific son."Brown, Emma. , The Washington Post, August 4, 2010. Accessed August 9, 2010.

In 1969-1972 he lived and worked in Israel as the President of Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. After his return to the United States he worked (1974–1982) as a Research Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. He later moved to Washington, D.C. area where he was a Resident Scholar at the John E. Fogarty International Center on NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.

Polio research

With the menace of polio growing, Sabin and other researchers, most notably Jonas Salk in Pittsburgh and Hilary Koprowski and Herald Cox in New York and Philadelphia, sought a vaccine to prevent or mitigate the illness. An oral vaccine, the Sabin vaccine consists of weakened forms of the viruses that cause polio. It protects the body against polio without causing the disease. In 1955, Salk’s "killed" vaccine was released for use. It was effective in preventing most of the complications of polio, but did not prevent the initial intestinal infection. The Sabin vaccine is easier to give than the earlier vaccine developed by Jonas E. Salk in 1954, and its effects last longer. In addition, those who received the Salk vaccine could pass on the polio virus. Sabin first tested his live attenuated oral vaccine at the Chillicothe Ohio Reformatory in late 1954. From 1956-1960, he worked with Russian colleagues to perfect the oral vaccine and prove its extraordinary effectiveness and safety. The Sabin vaccine worked in the intestines to block the poliovirus from entering the bloodstream. It was in the intestines, Sabin had discovered, that the poliovirus multiplied and attacked. Thus, the oral vaccine broke the chain of transmission of the virus and allowed for the possibility that polio might one day be eradicated.

Between 1955-1961, the oral vaccine was tested on at least 100 million people in the USSR, parts of Eastern Europe, Singapore, Mexico and the Netherlands. The first industrial production and mass use of Oral Poliovirus Vaccine (OPV) from Sabin strains was organized by Soviet scientist Mikhail Chumakov.Sabin, A.B. Role of my cooperation with Soviet scientists in the elimination of polio: possible lessons for relations between the U.S.A. and the USSR. Perspect Biol Med. 1987 Autumn; 31(1):57-64.Benison, S. International Medical Cooperation: Dr. Albert Sabin, Live Poliovirus Vaccine and the Soviets. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 56 (1982), 460-83. This provided the critical impetus for allowing large-scale clinical trials of OPV in the United States in April 1960 on 180,000 Cincinnati school children. The mass immunization techniques that Sabin pioneered with his associates effectively eradicated polio in Cincinnati. Against considerable opposition from The March of Dimes Foundation, which supported the relatively effective killed vaccine, Sabin prevailed on the Public Health Service to license his three strains of vaccine. While the PHS stalled, the USSR sent millions of doses of the oral vaccine to places with polio epidemics, such as Japan, and reaped the humanitarian benefit. Indeed it was not clear to many that the vaccine was an American one, financed by US dollars, but not available to ordinary Americans.

Sabin also developed vaccines against other viral diseases, including encephalitis and dengue. In addition, he investigated possible links between viruses and some forms of cancer.

Later life

In 1983, Sabin developed calcification of the cervical spine, which caused paralysis and intense pain.Philip Boffey, In the New York Times, November 27, 1983.Ezra Bowen, . In People, July 2, 1984. According to Keith Olbermann, Sabin revealed in a television interview that the experience had made him decide to spend the rest of his life working on alleviating pain. Special comment by Keith Olbermann on Countdown, 2009-10-07. This condition was successfully treated by surgery conducted at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1992 when Sabin was 86. A year later Sabin died in Washington, D.C., from heart failure.


  • Election to the Polio Hall of Fame, which was dedicated in Warm Springs, Georgia, on January 2, 1958.
  • National Medal of Science (1970)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (1986)
  • In 1999, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center named its new education and conference center for Sabin.
  • On March 6, 2006, the US Postal Service issued an 87¢ postage stamp carrying his image, in its Distinguished Americans series..
  • In early 2010, Sabin was proposed by the Ohio Historical Society as a finalist in a statewide vote for inclusion in Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol.
  • In 2012, Albert Sabin was named a "Great Ohioan" by the Capitol Square Foundation.