Table of contents:

Soviet virologists of the 1950s predicted a strategy to combat coronavirus
Soviet virologists of the 1950s predicted a strategy to combat coronavirus

A married couple of Moscow virologists in the 1950s tested one vaccine on their own children. The side effect they discovered offers new hope for protection from the coronavirus.

Moscow - For the boys, it was just a sweet treat. But for their parents, prominent medical scientists, what happened that day in 1959 in their Moscow apartment was a vital experiment that could save countless people. And they made their own children guinea pigs.

“We sort of lined up in a row,” recalls Dr. Pyotr Chumakov, who was seven at the time. “And each of us, our parents put a lump of sugar with a weakened polio virus in our mouths. It was one of the first vaccines against this terrible disease. I ate it from my mother's hands."

Today, this very vaccine again attracts the attention of scientists, including these brothers, who became virologists. It can become a weapon against the new coronavirus, as evidenced, in particular, by the research data of their mother, Dr. Marina Voroshilova.

Dr. Voroshilova found that the live polio vaccine has an unexpected positive effect, which, as it turned out, is very relevant to the current pandemic. People who received this vaccine for a month or more did not get sick with other viral diseases. She decided to give polio vaccine to her sons every fall.

Now some scientists from several countries are showing genuine interest in using existing vaccines for other purposes. One of them - with live poliovirus, and the second - from tuberculosis. They want to see if these vaccines will increase the body's resistance to coronavirus, at least temporarily. Among these scientists, there are also Russian virologists, using many years of experience in the study of vaccines and the knowledge of those researchers who, without fear of ridicule and accusations of insanity, experimented on themselves.

Experts believe that this idea should be treated with great caution - as with many other proposals to combat the pandemic

"It will be much better if we get a vaccine that gives specific immunity," said Dr. Paul A. Offit, professor at the Faculty of Medicine, in a telephone interview. Perelman of the University of Pennsylvania, and co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine. All the benefits of a repurposed vaccine, he added, are short-lived and incomplete when compared to a custom-made vaccine.

However, Dr. Robert Gallo, who has become one of the main proponents of testing polio vaccines against coronavirus, said that retargeting vaccines is "one of the most popular areas of immunology." Dr. Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said that even if a weakened poliovirus would provide immunity for just a month, it would "help overcome the crisis and save many lives."

But there are risks along the way

The live polio virus vaccine is being taken by billions of people, and this has led to the almost complete elimination of the disease. But in very rare cases, the attenuated virus used in the vaccine can mutate into a more dangerous form. It causes polio and infects other people. The risk of paralysis is one in 2.7 million vaccinations.

For this reason, public health authorities say that when a region eradicates naturally occurring polio, it should stop using the oral vaccine regularly, as the United States did 20 years ago.

This month, the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases has postponed a study planned by Dr. Gallo's Institute, Cleveland Clinic, University of Buffalo and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center to test the effectiveness of a live polio vaccine against coronavirus with doctors. The institute cited the unsafe nature of such a study as the reason, noting that poliovirus can enter the water supply system and infect other people. Scientists familiar with the research plan told about this. A spokesman for the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases declined to comment.

But other countries are moving forward. Polio vaccine trials have begun in Russia, and are planned in Iran and Guinea-Bissau.

A specific vaccine against coronavirus should prepare the immune system to fight against this particular virus. More than 125 possible variants are currently being developed in the world.

A repurposed vaccine, unlike a specific one, uses live, but weakened viruses or bacteria that stimulate the innate immune system to fight pathogens in general, at least temporarily.

The first polio vaccine, created by American Jonas Salk, used an "inactivated" virus, that is, particles of a killed virus. The vaccine had to be injected, and this hindered immunization in poor countries.

When the vaccine was widely introduced in 1955, Dr. Albert Sabin tested an oral vaccine that used live but attenuated poliovirus. However, in the US, where the Salk vaccine was already widely used, authorities were reluctant to take the risk and conduct trials with the live virus.

Dr. Seibin passed on three strains of his weakened virus to a married couple of Soviet virologists - the founder of the Institute of Poliomyelitis and Viral Encephalitis Mikhail Chumakov (now this institute bears his name) and Marina Voroshilova.

Dr. Chumakov vaccinated himself, but this medicine was intended mainly for children, and it had to be tested on children. Therefore, he and his wife gave the vaccine to their sons, as well as nephews and nieces

The experiment allowed Chumakov to persuade senior Soviet leader Anastas Mikoyan to expand testing. This eventually led to the mass production of oral polio vaccine, which is used throughout the world. The United States began oral polio vaccination in 1961 when the vaccine was proven safe in the USSR.

“Someone needs to be the first,” said Dr. Pyotr Chumakov in an interview. - I have never been indignant. I think it is very good when you have a father who is completely confident in the correctness of his actions, confident that he will not harm his children."

According to him, the mother was even more enthusiastic about testing the vaccine on boys.

“She was absolutely sure that there was nothing to be afraid of,” Chumakov said.

What Voroshilova noticed many years ago sparked renewed interest in the oral vaccine.

Usually, there are more than a dozen respiratory viruses in the body of a healthy child, which do not cause any disease or do so very rarely. But having vaccinated the children against polio, she could not find any such virus in them.

In the period from 1968 to 1975, a large-scale study was carried out in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Voroshilova, involving 320,000 people. Scientists have found that people who have been vaccinated, including those against polio, decrease the death rate from influenza.

Voroshilova received recognition in the USSR for demonstrating the link between vaccination and general protection against viral diseases, which is stimulated by the immune system.

The work of Voroshilova and Chumakov definitely influenced the mindset and health of their sons. All of them not only became virologists, but also began testing on themselves.

Today Pyotr Chumakov is a leading scientist at the Institute of Molecular Biology. Engelhardt of the Russian Academy of Sciences and co-founder of the Cleveland company, which deals with the treatment of cancer with viruses. He created about 25 viruses to fight tumors. According to him, he experienced all these viruses on himself.

He is now taking a polio vaccine grown in his laboratory as a possible defense against coronavirus

Molecular biologist Ilya Chumakov is sequencing the human genome in France.

Alexey Chumakov, who was not yet born when his parents experimented on brothers, spent most of his career in Los Angeles at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, doing cancer research. While working in Moscow, he created a hepatitis E vaccine, which he first tested on himself.

“This is an old tradition,” Chumakov said. "The engineer has to stand under the bridge when the first heavy load is being carried over it."

Dr. Konstantin Chumakov is the Deputy Director of the Office for Vaccine Research and Analysis of the US Food and Drug Administration, which will be involved in the approval of coronavirus vaccines for use in America. He recently co-authored with Dr. Gallo and other scientists in Science magazine to support research on repurposing existing vaccines.

In an interview, Konstantin Chumakov said that he did not remember how he ate sugar lumps in 1959, because he was only five years old. However, he approves of his parents' experiment, calling it a step towards saving countless children from paralysis.

“They did the right thing,” Chumakov said. - And now questions like "Do you have permission from the ethics commission?"

Popular by topic