NEW YORK, April 12, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This date in 1955 will forever be remembered as the day epidemic polio, "the killer, the crippler" disease, began losing its grip, historians say. Today, the March of Dimes celebrates the Salk polio vaccine and other significant research and medical breakthroughs for the health of babies and children over the past 75 years.
"My father was committed to his research and was forever grateful to the March of Dimes for funding and believing in his work," says Peter L. Salk, MD, president of the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation, a physician and medical researcher and the eldest son of Dr. Jonas Salk. "I'm pleased that the March of Dimes continues to honor this day, which reminds us of the important contributions that can result from collaborative efforts for the benefit of human health on a global scale." Dr. Salk spoke today at a commemorative event for volunteers.
Founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to eliminate polio, the March of Dimes provided the tools to accomplish this goal: the injected Salk vaccine in 1955 and the oral Sabin vaccine in 1962. The naturally-occurring virus causing this disease has been eliminated from the United States and the entire Western Hemisphere, and is now on the verge of being wiped off the face of the earth.
"Immunizations against serious, life-threatening infections developed in the 20th century protect everyone," says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "They protect us from terrible diseases like polio, measles, whooping cough, rubella (German measles), and influenza. We urge parents to have their children receive their full complement of immunizations and adults to receive their booster shots."
After the elimination of polio, the March of Dimes widened its focus to support research, education, vaccines and breakthroughs for the prevention of birth defects, infant mortality and preterm birth. Some of the live-saving research and breakthroughs supported by the March of Dimes include:
Identification of the double helix structure of DNA, which paved the way for mapping of the human genome;
Development of the first newborn screening test, PKU (phenylketonuria), allowing prevention of intellectual disabilities caused by PKU through diet;
Surfactant therapy to help premature babies breathe:
Folic acid awareness and fortification to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine.
Today, the March of Dimes, the leading non-profit organization for maternal and infant health, is hard at work to reduce the epidemic of premature birth, which affects nearly a half million babies in the U.S. and 15 million worldwide. In 2011, the organization established the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine, bringing together the brightest minds from many disciplines to work together and find answers to the causes and prevention of preterm birth.
Throughout 2013, the March of Dimes will celebrate its 75th anniversary and its ongoing work to help all babies get a healthy start in life. About 4 million babies are born in the United States each year, and the March of Dimes has helped each and every one through research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs.
The March of Dimes signature fundraiser, March for Babies, will take place the last weekend in April (April 27-28) in nearly 750 communities across the country. March for Babies is supported by number one corporate supporter, Kmart, and top sponsors Farmers Insurance Group, Macy's, Cigna, Sanofi Pasteur, Famous Footwear, Actavis, Mission Pharmacal, and United Airlines. For more information, visit marchforbabies.org.
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.