Historical Perspectives: Maurice Brodie & The Fight Against Polio

Contributed by Brandon Gray, Class of 2019

Maurice Brodie was a young Canadian researcher that was hired by the University of New York in 1935 because of his knowledge and current work on a killed-virus polio vaccine.  He was recruited by William H. Park who was a professor of bacteriology at the University of New York Medical School.  This recruitment greatly helped in solving a medical breakthrough regarding the horrible disease of polio.

Brodie’s work along with his ideas had potential, which is a large reason why he was recruited by New York University.  He used the nerve tissue of infected monkeys to extract the virus, which turned out to be the only available source.  Brodie attempted to deactivate the virus by injecting a formaldehyde agent without ruining its ability to produce antibodies that would fight the disease.  However, not much was known at this time about the polio virus.  Even though there was not much known about polio at the time, Brodie still had the support of Park, which gave him the boost of confidence that was needed to attack this disease.


Maurice Brodie (pinterest.com)

Having the support of Park meant that Brodie had access to funding and guidance.  First, Brodie quarantined 20 monkeys with his vaccine, and several of the monkeys showed promising results.  This is because they produced antibodies against the polio virus that was inactivated.  Also, not one monkey contracted polio.  At this point, Brodie was under the impression that his vaccine was completely safe.  Therefore, he gave himself and five colleagues the vaccine, and then gave it to several children whom created polio antibodies without developing polio.

After all this success, Brodie was highly confident in his vaccine.  As a result of being so confident, a year later, Brodie gave thousands of children his vaccine.  In November 1935, Maurice Brodie was given the opportunity to report his results to several doctors and scientists in St. Louis, Missouri.  His trial had included vaccinated and un-vaccinated children, and also a control group, which helped Brodie see if he was actually successful or not.  Brodie’s statistics included that his vaccine was “88% effective” in preventing polio.  After this meeting, Brodie was relieved from his job at New York University and was not able to contribute to polio research again.  Maurice Brodie died at the very young age of thirty-six in May 1939.

In conclusion, Maurice Brodie was a brilliant individual who was one of the first to develop a polio vaccine.  Brodie greatly advanced the research of the polio disease. He was the first to successfully deactivate the polio virus by using a formaldehyde agent.  His research showed great success in the fact that in children, when given the vaccine, developed polio antibodies that would fight the disease.  After Brodie’s trials had concluded, it was several years before anyone had tried to make a further advance in the field.  Jonas Salk was the one who used Brodie’s ideas and findings to further help advance the field.  If it wasn’t for Maurice Brodie and his advancement in this field, the accomplishments that were further made with the eradication of polio may not have happened as quickly.

Works Cited:

1.”The Cutter Incident”. Google Books. N.p., 2005. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

2. “Poliomyelitis: A Brief History”. Eds-resources.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

3. Dagutis, Schalene, Schalene Dagutis, and View profile. “Polio — The Summer Scourge”. Tangledrootsandtrees.blogspot.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.






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