University of Pittsburgh
February 1, 2005

Julius S. Youngner Is University of Pittsburgh Honors Convocation Speaker Feb. 28

Pitt Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and sole survivor of core research team that 50 years ago developed the Salk polio vaccine at Pitt to deliver address titled "Science and Controversy: Inseparable"
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg will preside over Pitt's 29th annual Honors Convocation at 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28, in Soldiers and Sailors Museum Memorial, Fifth Avenue, Oakland. Julius S. Youngner—Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, a pioneer in the science of virology, and the sole survivor of the core research team that created the Salk polio vaccine at Pitt—will be the keynote speaker. Prior to his address, titled "Science and Controversy: Inseparable," Youngner will have an honorary degree conferred upon him by Nordenberg.

The University is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the announcement that the Salk polio vaccine developed by Pitt's research team was "safe, effective, and potent" with a series of events, among them an April 11-12 symposium at which Youngner will deliver a keynote lecture.

Youngner, who received his Doctor of Science degree from the University of Michigan, has focused his research on the development of vaccines, particularly for viral infections. As an outgrowth of studies of dominant-negative mutants, Youngner has devised a novel approach to antiviral therapy. He and his colleagues have demonstrated that a live, attenuated virus vaccine for influenza A is a dominant mutant virus that is able to directly interfere with wild-type influenza virus in animals and protect them from disease. This characteristic is distinct from the ability of the live virus vaccine to induce a protective immune response. This strategy for influenza antiviral therapy may have the potential for a significant impact on the morbidity and mortality associated with influenza infections and may be applicable to other systems. He and his colleagues believe they have found a way to protect against any strain of influenza A, even those that do not yet exist. They propose using a human flu vaccine that has already been proven safe as an antiviral treatment. This hypothesis, like Jonas Salk's to produce a killed-virus vaccine, is considered by many to be at odds with accepted scientific dogma.

Youngner, Pitt emeritus professor since 1991, served as professor and chair of the School of Medicine's Department of Microbiology from 1966 to 1985 and professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology from 1985 to 1989. He was named Distinguished Service Professor in Pitt's School of Medicine in 1989.

Youngner joined Salk's polio research team in 1949, after having worked on the ultra-secret Manhattan Project as a member of the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and then as a scientist officer in the United States Public Health Service at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md.

Although Salk was the most public face of the polio research effort, Youngner was a key investigator on the team, responsible for significant discoveries that moved the vaccine research closer to a reality. In particular, Youngner's efforts were responsible for establishing techniques for trypsinization, which allowed production of poliovirus on a large scale, and he helped develop a process to inactivate the virus' capability to cause infection without destroying its effectiveness as a vaccine. He also devised a methodology for safety testing of vaccine batches, including those used in the first field trial. In addition, Youngner designed a simple color test to measure antibodies against polio that was used to determine the efficacy of immunization in human subjects.

Youngner also was the first to demonstrate, in 1964, that nonviral agents could trigger interferon induction, which led to the idea that interferon could have important functions beyond its use as an antiviral. An immune system cytokine, interferon is a key ingredient in many cancer treatments today—especially against melanoma. Youngner's lab identified a second variety of interferon that was acid-sensitive and termed it Type II interferon, which is now known as gamma-interferon. Youngner also made several significant contributions to the understanding of the antiviral effect of interferon and was the first to demonstrate the anti-interferon effect of some viruses, particularly poxviruses—a research area that is under active investigation in many laboratories. In addition, Youngner and his colleagues developed the first live attenuated intranasal vaccine for equine influenza, licensed in 1999. Intranasal flu vaccine now is being used in humans as well.

Youngner chairs the ethics committee for the American Society of Microbiology and is a member of the American Society for Virology, having served as president from 1986 to 1987. He received the Polio Plus Achievement award from Rotary International in 2001, and in 2002, was appointed chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Type Culture Collection, the world's largest repository of cell and tissue cultures. In 2003, he was named to an international advisory panel of scientists working with the government of Singapore to identify directions for research against SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Youngner, a native of New York City, and his wife live in Squirrel Hill.