While celebrating the scientists who discover a vaccine, we tend to ignore the scientists who contribute to the process. For Example, Jonas Salk and Albert Bruce Sabin are attributed to developing the polio vaccine, but not much is known about the scientists who simplified the complexity of the virus. This World Immunization Week, we remember how two women scientists, Isabel Morgan and Dorothy Horstmann played an instrumental role in the development of the polio vaccine.

Key Takeaways:

  • Polio vaccine was a significant outbreak in the field of medicine and scientists Jonas Salk and Albert Bruce Sabin are attributed to developing the vaccine.
  • However, not much is known about the two women scientists Isabel Morgan And Dorothy Horstmann who helped simplify the complexity of the virus. 
  • Dr Dorothy Horstmann, epidemiologist, virologist, clinician and educator, was the first woman appointed as a professor at the Yale School of Medicine.
  • A brilliant researcher, Dr Isabel Morgan was an unsung hero in finding the polio vaccine. Her team was the first to inoculate monkeys with a killed-virus vaccine. 

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Dr Isabel Morgan

When scientists believed that a vaccine can be developed only by using a live virus, Dr Isabel Morgan believed otherwise. It was after her consistent efforts for five years that her team became the first to inoculate monkeys with a killed-virus vaccine. This is where her team succeeded in immunizing monkeys against polio, which was unexpected at that time in science. But being a woman served as a weak point for her and she left her polio research in 1949. Interestingly, Jonas Stalk came up with the vaccine, a year later, in 1950. According to David Oshinsky, an American Historian, if Morgan stayed in the race, we would’ve been talking about the Morgan’s Polio vaccine rather than the Salk Polio vaccine.

It was after her consistent efforts for five years that her team became the first to inoculate monkeys with a killed-virus vaccine. This is where her team succeeded in immunizing monkeys against polio, which was unexpected at that time in science.

But why did she leave the race? Like many other women in the post World War II Era, she too was over-involved in domestic chores, and in taking care of her husband and her stepson. Talking about the polio vaccine, Morgan used a primate infection model to develop immunity for poliovirus. The main reason behind the failure of polio vaccines before was the inclusion of only one subtype, whereas Morgan’s research led to the discovery of poliovirus includes three distinct serotypes: type 1, type 2, and type 3, all of which are considered wild-type viruses and must be incorporated as vaccine components for infection prevention. 

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Dr Dorthy Horstmann

Dr Dorothy Horstmann, epidemiologist, virologist, clinician and educator, was the first woman appointed as a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. Among all the brilliant research work that she did, the most noteworthy was the discovery that poliovirus reached the central nervous system via the bloodstream. This paved a way for the polio vaccine, which was far different than the conventional methods. Horstmann went on further to show that virus could be recovered from the blood of contacts of polio patients who later developed the disease or remained asymptomatic. Dr John Enders, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on developing a tissue culture method to replicate poliovirus applauded Dr Horstmann’s work citing that her work literally shook the widely held feeling that the virus grew solely in nerve cells.

Among all the brilliant research work that she did, the most noteworthy was the discovery that poliovirus reached the central nervous system via the bloodstream. This paved a way for the polio vaccine.

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