(1914-1995) US physician and microbiologist. In 1954 he developed the original vaccine that led to virtual eradication of paralytic polio in industrialized countries.
Salk was born and educated in New York. He began working on virus epidemics in the 1940s. He was director of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1963–75.
Salk set about finding a way of treating the polio virus so that it was unable to cause the disease but was still able to produce an antibody reaction in the human body. He collected samples of spinal cord from many polio victims and grew the virus in a live-cell culture medium, and used formaldehyde (methanol) to render the virus inactive. By 1952 he had produced a vaccine effective against the three strains of polio virus common in the US; he tested it on monkeys, and later on his own children. In 1955, in a big publicity campaign, some vaccine was prepared without adequate precautions and about 200 cases of polio, with 11 deaths, resulted from the clinical trials. More stringent control prevented further disasters.