Virus, Vaccines, Verification
World War II accelerated vaccine development. Fear of a repetition of the 1918–19
world epidemic of influenza focused urgent attention on all viral diseases, while
commercial production of antibiotics taught researchers to grow viruses with
less microbe contamination. Also, investigators paid closer attention to vaccine
safety and effectiveness through clinical studies before release of a vaccine
to the public, especially after the yellow fever vaccine apparently caused hepatitis
B in many U.S. soldiers in 1942.
The U.S. Army hospital in Royat, France, during the
World War I influenza epidemic Courtesy of National Library of Medicine
Polio vaccine is made from the actual virus. For both research and production,
vaccine makers needed to grow large quantities of virus. Influenza virus had
been grown in chicken eggs, but this method did not polio. So
researchers sought other materials in which to grow poliovirus.
In 1936, Albert Sabin and Peter Olitsky at the Rockefeller Institute
demonstrated that poliovirus could grow in human embryonic brain tissue,
but they feared that this method might risk central nervous system
damage in those who received the vaccine. The advantage of embryonic
tissue, however, was that it grew quickly.
Left: Copy of page from Thomas Wellerís notebook, March
30, 1948, describing the experiment for which he, John Enders, and Frederick
Robbins won the Nobel Prize in 1954 Courtesy of Watson Publishing International
Right: Thomas Weller, Frederick Robbins, and John Enders receiving the Nobel
Prize in Stockholm, for “the cultivation of the poliomyelitis viruses
in tissue culture,” 1954
A Nobel Prize
In March 1948, John Enders, Thomas Weller, and Frederick Robbins used
human embryonic skin and muscle tissue, grown in a nutrient mix with
antibiotics, to prove poliovirus could infect tissue other than nerve
cells. Their confirmation meant that researchers could now grow enough
poliovirus to create large quantities of vaccine.
The three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
in 1954, the year polio vaccine had its first large clinical trial.
Neither Jonas Salk nor Albert Sabin received a Nobel Prize for their
work in creating vaccines.
From John Enders’s lab, 1948: flasks in which poliovirus grew in monkey kidney tissue,
and the wooden roller used to test tubes containing the growing virus slowly and