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10News looks at legacy of Dr. Jonas Salk on what would've been his 109th birthday

Salk developed a safe and effective vaccine for polio in 1955 before founding an institute dedicated to research on a broad range of areas.
salk institute of biological studies
Posted at 6:53 PM, Oct 27, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — ABC 10News was at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies on the eve of what would have been the 109th birthday of the man who envisioned and helped design this architectural landmark in La Jolla: The world renowned researcher and scientist who called it home, Dr. Jonas Salk.

Dr. Jonas Salk was hailed a miracle worker in 1955 for developing the first safe and effective vaccine for polio. The Salk Institute is a place for a collaboration of scientists from around the world to delve into a broad range of research areas — from aging, cancer and immunology to diabetes, brain science and plant biology.

Salk research provides new understanding and potential treatments for a range of diseases, including AIDS, Alzheimer's, cancer and cardiovascular disorders. 10News anchor Kimberly Hunt spent the afternoon with the son of Dr. Jonas Salk, who is a doctor of psychiatry: Dr. Jonathan Salk.

"He loved this institution. He was proud of it — the science was just incredible. But he did have this vision that creativity involves science, involves the arts and involves philosophy as well as poetry," says Jonathan Salk. "So, he always had this vision of this would be a place where the all those disciplines could come together."

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is often referred to as Dr. Jonas Salk’s second triumph. After changing the world with his polio vaccine in 1955, he dreamed of a research center that would unlock the secrets of life itself.

He began to work with architect Louis Kahn on a center to attract world class scientists who would push the boundaries of knowledge in all areas of the sciences.

"So he was really, really proud of this building. So that's what I remember, you know, really fondly. Even in his later years, he would kind of walk by and he would touch the smooth walls, just not thinking about it," Jonathan Salk says. "But it was kind of like this, like little caress, you know, like you'd give to a little kid and you just put your hand on its head. And that's the relationship he had with a building."

Jonathan says his father's warmth also went to the family.

"The big thing that made him a great devil was his warmth. He was just physically a warm, affectionate human being," he says. "What he had was a combination of being fearless and really trusting his own intuition, his own instincts and his own reason."

Jonathan also told ABC 10News his dad was driven by wanting to make people healthier.

"But something drove him his entire life. And really what drove him subjectively, was honestly trying to make the world a better place," he says. "When he was a little boy, he used to pray that God would let him do something that would help humanity. And I guess somebody said, yes."

The words of Jonas Salk forever fill the open courtyard that looks over the sea of what is possible: "Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and int he courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality."

Dr. Jonas Salk indeed changed humanity; two years after his vaccine was introduced, polio cases in the U.S. fell by nearly 90%.