Hilary Koprowski

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Hilary Koprowski
2007.09.19. Hilary Koprowski by Kubik 05.jpg
Koprowski, Warsaw, 2007
Born (1916-12-05)5 December 1916
Warsaw, Russian Empire
Died 11 April 2013(2013-04-11) (aged 96)
Wynnewood, PA (near Philadelphia, United States)
Nationality Polish
Fields Virology
Known for Polio vaccine
Spouse Irena Grasberg (m. 1938; 2 children)

Hilary Koprowski (December 5, 1916 – April 11, 2013) was a Polish and American virologist and immunologist, inventor of the world's first effective live polio vaccine. He was the author and co-author of over 875 scientific papers, co-editor of several journals; and recipient of many honorary degrees including the Belgian Order of the Lion, the French Order of Merit and the Legion of Honour; the Order of the Lion of Finland, and the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. Koprowski has been falsely blamed in the OPV AIDS hypothesis which was refuted by evidence to the contrary, proving conclusively that the introduction of HIV-1 to humans occurred 30 years before his trials in Africa were conducted.[1]


Koprowski, Warsaw, 2007

Born in Warsaw, Poland, his parents, Pawel and Sonia, met in 1906 when his father served in the Russian army, and moved to Warsaw soon after their marriage in 1912.[2] Hilary Koprowski attended Mikołaj Rej Secondary School and from age twelve took piano lessons at the Warsaw Conservatory. He received a medical degree from the Faculty of Medicine at Warsaw University in 1939. He also received music degrees from the Warsaw Conservatory and, in 1940, from the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. He adopted scientific research as his life's work, though he never gave up music and composed several musical works.

In 1939, after Germany's invasion of Poland, Koprowski and his wife Irena, a physician, fled the country, using Koprowski family business connections in Manchester, England. Hilary went to Rome, where he spent a year studying piano at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory. Meanwhile, Irena went to France, where she gave birth to their first child, Claude Koprowski, and worked as an attending physician at an insane asylum.[3] As the invasion of France loomed in 1940, Irena and the infant escaped from France via Spain and Portugal (where the Koprowski family reunited), to Brazil, where Koprowski worked in Rio de Janeiro for the Rockefeller Foundation. His field of research for several years was finding a live-virus vaccine against yellow fever.

After World War II the Koprowskis settled in Pearl River, New York, where Hilary was hired as a researcher for Lederle Laboratories, the pharmaceutical division of American Cyanamid. Here he began his polio experiments, which ultimately led to the creation of the first oral polio vaccine. Because of his employment in the pharmaceutical industry, some of his academic colleagues called him a "commercial scientist."

Koprowski had married Irena (Grasberg) in July 1938, while in medical school.[4] They are survived by two sons, Claude (born in Paris, 1940) and Christopher (born 1951). Claude Koprowski is a retired physician. Christopher Koprowski is a physician certified in two specialties, neurology and radio-oncology; he is chair of the department of radiation oncology at Christiana Hospital in Delaware.[5]

Koprowski served as director of the Wistar Institute, 1957–91, during which period Wistar achieved international recognition for its vaccine research and became a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center. Koprowski died on April 11, 2013 in Wynnewood, PA (near Philadelphia, PA) of pneumonia. He was 96.[6]

First polio vaccine[edit]

While at The Lederle Labs.,[7] Koprowski created the world's first polio vaccine, based on oral administration of attenuated polio virus. In researching a potential polio vaccine, he had focused on live viruses that were attenuated (rendered non-virulent) rather than on killed viruses (the latter became the basis for the injected vaccine that was subsequently created by Jonas Salk).

Koprowski viewed the live vaccine as more powerful, since it entered the intestinal tract directly and could provide lifelong immunity, whereas the Salk vaccine required booster shots. Also, administering a vaccine by mouth is easy, whereas an injection requires medical facilities and is more expensive.

Koprowski developed the polio vaccine by attenuating the virus in brain cells of the cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus), a New World species susceptible to polio.[7] He administered the vaccine to himself in January 1948 and to 20 children at Letchworth Village, a home for mentally disabled children in Rockland County, N.Y., on February 27, 1950. Seventeen of the 20 children developed antibodies to poliovirus (the other three apparently already had antibodies) and none of the children developed complications. Within ten years it was being used on four continents. Albert Sabin's attenuated-live-virus polio vaccine was developed from attenuated polio virus that Sabin had received from Koprowski.

Koprowski was President of Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories, Inc., and Head of the Center for Neurovirology at Thomas Jefferson University. In 2006 he was awarded a record 50th grant from the National Institutes of Health. He is the author or co-author of over 875 scientific papers and was co-editor of several journals. He served as a consultant to the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization.


Koprowski has received many honorary degrees and honors, including the Order of the Lion from the King of Belgium, the French Order of Merit for Research and Invention, a Fulbright Scholarship, and appointment as Alexander von Humboldt Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Munich. In 1989 he received the San Marino Award for Medicine and the Nicolaus Copernicus Medal of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

Koprowski has received many honors in Philadelphia, including the Philadelphia Cancer Research Award, the John Scott Award and, in May 1990, the most prestigious honor of his home city, the Philadelphia Award. He is a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which in 1959 presented him with its Alvarenga Prize.

Koprowski was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America.[8] He held foreign membership in the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters.

On March 22, 1995, Koprowski was awarded the title of Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland by the President of the Republic of Finland. On March 13, 1997, he received the Legion d'Honneur from the French government. On September 29, 1998, he was presented the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by the Polish President.

On February 25, 2000, Koprowski was honored with a reception at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first administration of his oral polio vaccine. At the reception, he received commendations from the United States Senate, the Pennsylvania Senate and Governor Tom Ridge.

On September 13, 2004, Koprowski was presented with the Pioneer in NeuroVirology Award by the International Society for NeuroVirology at the 6th International Symposium on NeuroVirology held in Sardinia, Italy.

On May 1, 2007 Hilary Koprowski was awarded the Albert Sabin Gold Medal by the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Baltimore.[9]

AIDS hypothesis[edit]

British journalist Edward Hooper publicized a hypothesis that AIDS might have been caused in the late 1950s in the Belgian Congo by Koprowski's research into a polio vaccine. The OPV AIDS hypothesis has been widely rejected throughout the scientific community and is contradicted by modern research on the origin of the disease. The HIV-1 group M originated in Africa 30 years before the OPV trials were conducted.[1] The journal Science refuted Hooper's claims, and wrote "...it can be stated with almost complete certainty that the large polio vaccine trial... was not the origin of AIDS."[10] Koprowski also rejected the claim based on his own analysis. In a separate court case, he won a regretful clarification,[11] and symbolic $1 in monetary damages,[12] in a defamation suit against the Rolling Stone magazine, which had published an article thus repeating similar false allegations.[13] A concurrent defamation lawsuit that Koprowski brought against the Associated Press was settled several years later, but the terms were not publicly disclosed.[12]

Koprowski's original reports from 1960–61 detailing part of his vaccination campaign in the Belgian Congo are available on-line from the World Health Organization.[14][15][16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Worobey M, Santiago ML, Keele BF, Ndjango JB, Joy JB, Labama BL, Dhed'A BD, Rambaut A, Sharp PM, Shaw GM, Hahn BH (2004). "Origin of AIDS: contaminated polio vaccine theory refuted" (PDF file, direct download 203 KB). Nature 428 (6985): 820–820. doi:10.1038/428820a. PMID 15103367. "Note 1,13: Korber, B.et al. Science 288, 1789–1796 (2000)" 
  2. ^ The Pawel Koprowski Memorial Vacation Award was founded by Hilary Koprowski in 1958 in honor of his father.
  3. ^ Koprowska, Irena (1997). A Woman Wanders Through Life and Science. State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780791431771. 
  4. ^ Biography. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  5. ^ http://www.christianacare.org/body.cfm?id=961
  6. ^ Hilary Koprowski, polio vaccine pioneer, dead at 96 - Philadelphia Inquirer, April 13, 2013.
  7. ^ a b Hilary Koprowski, Who Developed First Live-Virus Polio Vaccine, Dies at 96 - The New York Times, April 20, 2013.
  8. ^ Directory [of] PIASA Members, p. 25.
  9. ^ Award Ceremony and speeches
  10. ^ "Panel nixes Congo trials as AIDS source". Science 258 (5083): 738–9. 1992. doi:10.1126/science.258.5083.738-d. PMID 1439779. 
  11. ^ "Origin of AIDS" update: Clarification. Rolling Stone, 9 December 1993, p. 39
  12. ^ a b Brian Martin (2001) "The Politics of a Scientific Meeting: the Origin-of-AIDS Debate at the Royal Socity" in Politics & the Life Sciences, pp. 119-130 online
  13. ^ Hilary Koprowski (1992). "AIDS and the polio vaccine". Science 257 (5073): 1024, 1026–7. doi:10.1126/science.257.5073.1024. PMID 1509249. 
  14. ^ LeBrun A, Cerf J, Gelfand HM, Courtois G, Plotkin SA, Koprowski H (1960) "Vaccination with the CHAT strain of type 1 attenuated poliomyelities virus in Leopoldville, Belgian Congo 1. Description of the city, its history of poliomyelitis, and the plan of the vaccination campaign" Bull World Health Organ. 22:203-13 online
  15. ^ Plotkin SA, LeBrun A, Koprowski H (1960) "Vaccination with the CHAT strain of type 1 attenuated poliomyelitis virus in Leopoldville. Belgian Congo 2. Studies of the safety and efficacy of vaccination", Bull World Health Organ 22:215-34 online
  16. ^ Plotkin SA, LeBrun A, Courtois G, Koprowski H (1961) "Vaccination with the CHAT strain of type 1 attenuated poliomyelitis virus in Leopoldville, Congo 3. Safety and efficacy during the first 21 months of study" Bull World Health Organ 24:785-92 online


External links[edit]

  • Hilary Koprowski official site
  • [1] "Hilary Koprowski, polio vaccine pioneer, dead at 96". Philly.com, 13 April 2013.