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Archives for: February 2011
11:12:30 am, by Tom, 2088 words, 13198 views
Albert Sabin and the monkeys who gave summer back to the children.
Albert Sabin has been called “the doctor who gave summer back to the children.”*
Because of his decades of research to develop the oral polio vaccine, children today know nothing of the fear that polio brought to the United States every summer well into the 20th century. Swimming pools and movie theaters were closed and children were kept inside their homes by frightened parents. Worldwide, the disease killed millions of people and left legions of others permanently disabled.
We’ve just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Dr. Sabin’s vaccine. Estimates suggest that in just its first two years of worldwide use, the vaccine prevented nearly 500,000 deaths and five million cases of polio. Today, the world is on the brink of realizing Dr. Sabin’s lifetime dream: the eradication of polio from the planet.
The development of the oral polio vaccine required years of extensive research with rabbits, monkeys and rodents.
Animal rights activists long ago seized on a single phrase by Dr. Albert Sabin, and have been using it ever since to try to support their outrageous claim that the developer of the oral polio vaccine(OPV) opposed the use of animals in research.
That phrase, “The work on prevention (of polio) was long delayed by an erroneous conception of the nature of the human disease based on misleading experimental models of disease in monkeys” spoken by Dr. Sabin during a congressional hearing in 1984, has been used in animal rights publications and comments for over two decades.
Dr. Sabin, a member of the Board of Directors of the pro-research Americans for Medical Progress until his death in 1993, spent years working to correct the record. Here is a letter he wrote to the editor of the Winston Salem Journal, published in 1992.
It is true that in the early years of polio research some lines of inquiry eventually proved unsuccessful. An overreliance on a strain of the virus known as the MV strain that had become adapted to survive only in nervous tissue, and the fact that the Rhesus macaque, while a good model for many aspects of polio, cannot be infected through ingestion via the mouth, led to the incorrect assumption that polio could only infect nerve cells (despite evidence to the contrary from both clinical studies and laboratory studies with other polio strains and monkey species). These mistakes were unfortunate, though understandable given the fact that virology as a science was in its infancy.
However, these failed attempts do not cancel out the fact that animal research, and research using monkeys in particular, was absolutely crucial to the development of vaccines for polio. Without it the polio vaccine would certainly not have been developed by the end of the 1950’s, and we might even still be waiting for it.
These vital contributions made by animal research to the development of polio vaccines were not limited to the work of Albert Sabin, and include:
(i) The discovery by Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper in 1908 that polio was caused by a virus, a discovery made by inoculating macaque monkeys with an extract of nervous tissue from polio victims that was shown to be free of other infectious agents.
(ii) The subsequent discovery by Simon Flexner that blood serum from infected macaque monkeys could protect against polio infection.
(iii) The discovery by Carl Kling and colleagues in 1911, following an earlier discovery that polio virus could be isolated from the lymph nodes of the small intestine of monkeys, that polio virus was present in the throat and intestinal tissues of people who dies from polio. Soon afterwards they isolated virus from the intestines of patients suffering from acute polio, and importantly from family members who did not display the symptoms of polio, establishing that healthy carriers played an important role in spreading the disease. In these studies the presence of polio was demonstrated by injecting filtered fluid from the patients into monkeys, the only method then available to confirm the presence of polio (Introduction to Epidemiology, fifth edition, by Ray M, Merill, Jones and Bartlett Learning).
(iv) The discovery in the early 1930’s by the Australian scientists Macfarlane Burnet and Jean Macnamara that antibodies against one strain of polio did not always protect macaque monkeys against infection with another strain.
(v) The discovery by John Enders, Thomas Weller and Frederick Robbins that the polio virus could be grown in a number of tissue types, not just nerve tissue as previously assumed, a discovery that required the use of mice and monkeys to prove that the cultured virus was indeed polio and still capable of causing paralysis.
(vi) The determination in 1949 by David Bodian and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University that there were three major families of polio virus, referred to as types 1, 2, and 3, and that a separate vaccine would be necessary for each to give broad protection against polio.
(vii) The confirmation by David Bodian and colleagues in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s that the polio virus entered the body through the mouth, and then needed to pass into the blood stream before it could infect nervous tissue, and that if you could block the infection in the blood you could prevent the virus from entering nerve tissue and causing paralysis. The work of Enders and Bodian paved the way for the development of vaccines by Salk and Sabin.
(viii) The evaluation by Jonas Salk and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh of vaccine candidates produced by inactivating the virus with formalin under a range of conditions, until a vaccine was identified that was effective and safe enough for human trials.
(ix) The evaluation by Albert Sabin of hundreds of polio virus strains in hundreds of monkeys and scores of chimps before identifying attenuated strains that were capable of efficiently entering the body through the digestive system and provoking an adequate immune response to protect against the different pathogenic strains of polio while not causing the disease themselves.
Animal rights activists are free to express their opposition to the use of animals in research, but they cannot do so by blatantly robbing society of scientific achievements. This one fact is clear -- if our critics had their way, today millions of children would be dead or disabled from polio and other infectious diseases.
* Of course Jonas Salk is equally, if not even more, deserving of this accolade.
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