Adventures in Science: Interview with Hart E. Van Riper

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Watson Davis: This is for "Adventures in Science" to be broadcast on Saturday, January 12th from Washington. Watson Davis speaking.

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Watson Davis: Our Adventures in Science guests today transcribed are Dr. Hart E. Van Riper who's Medical Director of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, and Dr. Jonas E. Salk of the University of Pittsburgh; he's head of the Department of Bacteriolgy and he also uh, runs the virus research laboratory there, supported by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. We're here in ah the midst of the March of Dimes Dr. Van Riper uh a great work to make it possible to discover the cause and the prevention of Polio. Now, I'd like to know Dr. Van Riper, how close are we to a cure for infantile paralysis?

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Hart E. Van Riper: I'm glad you asked that question, Mr. Davis, and I can answer that by hedging and saying, I think, perhaps, we're much closer to a prevention than we are a cure.

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Watson Davis: Well, I think, Dr. Van Riper, we're probably a lot more interested in preventing Polio than we are in curing it, uh, in the long run that is. Let's talk about how can you prevent it then?

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Hart E. Van Riper: Well, I think that in this day of modern medicine when we're talking more about preventive medicine than curative medicine, we're all looking for prevention of disease in man, whether it be an infectious thing or degenerative disease or what not, and honestly we know today that Polio, like other infectious diseases, may be controlled eventually by a vaccine. Now that's a long step forward in the last ah, oh say 10 or 15 years, and since this is the 15th March of Dimes, we measure progress in years.

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Watson Davis: Well, Dr. Salk, uh, Dr. Van Riper, we're going to hear from Dr. Salk in a few minutes. Uh, what about uh progress toward a vaccine; there've been vaccines in the past, haven't there, that been tried?

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Hart E. Van Riper: Yes, but, ah, Dr. Salk's going to tell us in a little while, ah, before, you see, we didn't know how many viruses were capable of causing Poliomyelitis in a human being, ah, and recent studies have indicated there there are at least 3 types or strains of virus which can cause a disease in which in fact accounts for the fact that there have been reported cases, second attacks in the same individual.

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Hart E. Van Riper: Now we've established the strain business and, uh, we've, esta- we've learned a new way to cultivate virus other than in nervous tissue. And now we're working on the best means, perhaps, of inactivating the virus so that it's no longer infectious to the human being but it, uh, the vaccine is still capable of producing the antibody in the human being.

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Watson Davis: It's a long process, this work of research, isn't it? It takes lots of dimes, lots of dollars, and lots of time and it's something that somehow rather you can't hurry too much, except by putting at the job large resources made possible by the generosity of the people. And I think that's very important, isn't it, Dr. Van Riper?

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Hart E. Van Riper: It is, indeed. For instance, this year we will have spent from national headquarters, say, 8 million dollars on patient care with only a million and a half in research. Now, I'm sure that your listeners feel that if we reverse that that perhaps we'd, let's say, we'd come to the answer three or four times faster. You know, Mr. Davis, in research, money isn't always the thing that brings the answer. You need the money but you have to have the individual who can do this sort of tedious, slow investigative work and money will not speed that up.

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Watson Davis: In other words, even if you had a lot more money for research, you might not have the people to do the research or the facilities. Well, Dr. Van Riper, that's very interesting. Let's, uh, let's ask Dr. Salk, now, to tell us about this work that he's doing on finding out how many viruses there are. That's a good case of important research that's going on under the auspices of the foundation. How about it, Dr. Salk?

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Watson Davis: Well, thank you, Dr. Salk. Dr. Van Riper, I'd like to ask you what other research is in progress by, under the auspices, of the foundation.

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Hart E. Van Riper: Well, now, let's, uh, let's confine ourselves now to, to our activities in searching for a vaccine. [[Cross Talk]] I think, Mr. Davis, probably one of the things that's most encouraging is this use of tissue cultures for the propagation of the polio virus. As you know, up until a few years, or a year, 18 months ago, we were dependent as a source of virus for any possible vaccine on the virus that's recovered from the central nervous system of infected monkeys.

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Hart E. Van Riper: And as you know, we've never been able to purify such a solution to eliminate all of the nervous tissue and which nervous tissue is exceedingly toxic to an individual. So, the use of monkey brain or spinal cord as a source of vaccine has been out the window. Now, with tissue culture, we are able to get a pure strain of virus that is free of any contaminant that will be dangerous--at least to the individual. Also, by the tissue culture method, we hope that it may be possible to attenuate this poliovirus. That is, make it less "infecty" for human beings and still retain that part of the virus that produces immunity.

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Watson Davis: Dr. Van Riper, this tissue culture is very interesting because really it's the case of the parts of the human body living after perhaps the original body is dead. And it's a sort of a physiological [[laughter]] immortality, as it were, I think that's [[Cross Talk]] --
Hart E. Van Riper: Yes, and it's remarkable the amount of tissue that will reproduce poliovirus. And we're now, another thing, we're trying to standardize tissue culture, that is, to get a group of cells growing that will be the same whether they're used in tissue cultures in Boston or Pittsburgh or San Francisco so that we'll have a standard tissue that the virus is growing on and we'll know exactly what we're dealing with.

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Watson Davis: And you expect to do that in various laboratories or in many laboratories working on that all over the country aren't there Dr. Van Riper?

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Hart E. Van Riper: Yes, there are and then another thing in this matter of an eventual vaccine and we're testing this tissue culture virus with various agents, chemical and physical to determine the best way and means of making them less infective for the human being. I mean after all we cant give a vaccine that will produce disease.

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Watson Davis: Dr. Van Riper someday we hope through the work you're doing and Dr. Salk is doing we will get a prevention for polio and in the mean time the best thing we can do is to take care of those who have the disease and who can in many cases recover and do this very important research which is going on throughout the country and throughout the world.

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Watson Davis: Well Thank you very much Dr. Van Riper, our adventures in science guest today transcribed have been Dr. Hart E. Van Riper, medical director of the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis, and Dr. Jonas E. Salk of the Department of Bacteriology at the University of Pittsburgh.

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