Albert Bruce Sabin (born Abram Saperstein; August 26, 1906 – March 3, 1993) was a Polish American medical researcher, best known for developing the oral polio vaccine, which has played a key role in nearly eradicating the disease.
Sabin was born in Białystok, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, to Polish-Jewish parents, Jacob Saperstein and Tillie Krugman. In 1921, he emigrated with his family as Abram Saperstejn on the S/S Lapland which sailed from Antwerp, Belgium, to the Port of New York. In 1930, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States and changed his name to Sabin, as well as assuming the middle name Bruce.
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."
Sabin went on a fact-finding trip to Cuba in 1967 to discuss with Cuban officials the possibility of establishing a collaborative relationship between the United States and Cuba through their respective national academies of sciences, in spite of the fact that the two countries did not have formal diplomatic ties.
In 1969–72, 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 (1974–82) 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 the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
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 City and Philadelphia, sought a vaccine to prevent or mitigate the illness. The Sabin vaccine is an oral vaccine containing weakened forms of strains of polio viruses. 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 Salk in 1954, and its effects last longer. 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. In the intestines, Sabin had discovered, 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 and 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. 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 U.S. dollars, as it was not widely available to ordinary Americans.
In 1983, Sabin developed calcification of the cervical spine, which caused paralysis and intense pain. Sabin revealed in a television interview that the experience had made him decide to spend the rest of his life working on alleviating pain. 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.
Sabin refused to patent his vaccine, waiving every commercial exploitation by pharmaceutical industries, so that the low price would guarantee a more extensive spread of the treatment. From the development of his vaccine Sabin did not gain a single dollar, and continued to live on his salary as a professor. The Sabin Vaccine Institute was founded in 1993 to continue the work of developing and promoting vaccines. To commemorate Sabin's pioneering work, the institute annually awards the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal in recognition of work in the field of vaccinology or a complementary field.
Honors and awards
- Election to the Polio Hall of Fame, which was dedicated in Warm Springs, Georgia, on January 2, 1958
- Howard Taylor Ricketts Prize (1959)
- Robert Koch Prize (1962)
- Feltrinelli Prize (1964)
- Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award (1965)
- National Medal of Science (1970) 
- Medal of Liberty (1986)
- Presidential Medal of Freedom (1986)
- The Cincinnati Convention Center was named after Sabin from 1985 to 2006.
- In 1999, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center named its new education and conference center for Sabin.
- The street that runs between the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center was renamed Albert Sabin Way on April 28, 2000.
- On March 6, 2006, the US Postal Service issued an 87-cent postage stamp bearing 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.