Philadelphia - From the Academy

 Polish Scientists 

This column is devoted to the accomplishments and life stories of eminent scholars of Polish origin and ancestry who have achieved recognition in the USA.

Professor Hilary Koprowski, MD (1916-2013)

  April marks the fifth anniversary of the         passing of Dr. Hilary Koprowski, a       Polish-born virologist and                 immunologist inventor of the world's   first effective live-virus oral vaccine     against the devastating poliomyelitis   (polio). Dr. Koprowski, who resided for   almost 60 years in Wynnewood, PA, left an   enduring legacy within the Philadelphia   academic community.

[photo credit Marius Kubik]

 Dr. Koprowski, a native of Warsaw, was   drawn to both science and music at an   early  age. He took piano lessons at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music since the age of 12. In 1939 he received simultaneously, an MD from the Warsaw University and a music degree from the Warsaw Conservatory.  Dr. Koprowski and his wife Irena (nee Grasberg) whom he married while in medical school, fled the country the same year, after the German invasion of Poland.  A year later, he graduated from the prestigious Santa Cecilia Conservatory of Music in Rome.  Although his love for music continued throughout his life, he dedicated his career to science.

Following four years spent as a research associate for the Yellow Fever Research Service in Rio de Janeiro, his family settled in Pearl River, NY where he worked as a researcher at Lederle Laboratories. Here he initiated his pursuit of polio research, which ultimately led to the development of the first vaccine for this crippling and sometimes fatal disease. His research focused on live polio viruses that were attenuated (rendered non-virulent) rather than inactivated viruses that subsequently became the basis for the injected vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. Dr. Koprowski believed that the live-virus vaccine was more powerful since it entered gastro-intestinal track directly just like the natural virus, and could provide a life-long immunity, while the Salk vaccine that came to use in 1955 needed booster shots.

 Dr. Koprowski self-administered the live oral vaccine he developed in 1948, and by 1950 was the first to show it was possible to vaccinate against polio. The vaccine was proven effective following the mass trials including 9,000,000 children in Poland and 250,000 in Zaire. Although Dr. Koprowski vaccine was not licensed for use in the United States, his pioneering work enabled the development of another oral polio vaccine by Albert Sabin that came into commercial use in 1961. The two vaccines have eradicated polio from most of the world and reduced the number of cases reported each year from 350,000 in 1988 to 37 in 2016. Since 1979 not a single case of polio originated in the United States.

In 1957 Dr. Koprowski was recruited to head the Wistar Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, a position he held until 1991. He was credited with transforming the Institute into the world-renowned center for biomedical research ( During that time period Wistar also became a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center.
During his 30-year tenure at Wistar Institute, Dr. Koprowski built a prestigious research faculty by recruiting top biologists from around the world. He also continually created research opportunities for many Polish scientists, several of whom established their own independent successful careers in the United States. Under Dr. Koprowski's leadership, Wistar scientists developed the Rubella vaccine that virtually eliminated this disease from much of the world and the rabbies vaccine that was more effective that the one created by Louis Pasteur. The development of rabbies vaccine was led by another prominent Polish scientist Dr. Tadeusz Wiktor (1920-1986). In late 70-ties, Dr. Zenon Steplewski, also a 30 year member of the Wistar research team, pioneered the development of antibodies against tumor associated antigens and development of cancer vaccines.   Both are currently being used clinically for cancer diagnostics and tumor immunotherapy. We have previously profiled Dr. Steplewski in the December 2016 issue of Quo Vadis.

For his research achievements at the Wistar Institute Dr. Koprowski received the Philadelphia Award in 1989. The same year he established the Koprowskis' Foundation in Poland with a mission to support talented Polish scientist, promote of their work and facilitate contacts and collaborative efforts with prominent research groups in the US.

In 1992, Professor Koprowski was hired by Thomas Jefferson University as the Director of the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories and the Center of Neurovirology to oversee the development of novel ways of producing vaccines and other agents for prevention and treatment of cancer, multiple sclerosis and hepatitis B. During that time, he developed close collaboration with two Institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences: The Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry in Poznan and the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics in Warsaw.

 Hilary Koprowski   authored or co-   authored over 875   scientific papers and co-   edited several scientific   journals. His lifelong   commitment to   groundbreaking research   in  virology and cancer was   recognized by numerous   awards and distinctions   including a Fulbright   Scholarship, the Alvarenga Prize of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (1959), Belgium's Royal Order of the Lion, the French Order of Merit for Research and Invention, the San Marino Award for Medicine (1989), the Nicolaus Copernicus Medal of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Philadelphia Cancer Research Award, the  John Scott Award, the title of "Commander" of the Order of the Lion of Finland,(1995), the Legion d'Honneur (1997), the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (1998), and the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal  (2007).
Prof. Hilary Koprowski was known as a forceful and charismatic figure, and also as a true renaissance man: trained concert pianist and a composer, a fluent speaker of seven languages, a writer, a connoisseur of food and wine, and a collector of old master paintings.


Prof. Hilary Koprowski and the structure of the polio virus molecule.
Commemorative postage stamp from the series: Achievements of Polish Science

Recommended reading:
Listen to the Music: The Life of Hilary Koprowski
 by Roger Vaughan

 One of the reviews:
 "As the saying goes, human beings are born as   originals  and die as copies. Not Hilary Koprowski.   This  remarkable renaissance man has an appetite for   life which only seems to grow with the passing of time.   His encyclopedic knowledge of the sciences and the arts   provides enriching encounters for those who have the   privilege to meet him. To those who do not have this   privilege the present book about his life is a substitute.   Predictably, it is a rewarding reading experience." -- Erling Norrby, Secretary General, Royal Swedish Academy of Science.

High Honors for Lehigh's Professor Wojciech Misiołek

Lehigh University's Materials Science and Engineering Chair and Director of Loewy Institute was honored for work in engineering science in his native Poland. Prof. Misiołek received the prestigious title of Professor from Polish President Andrzej Duda during a ceremony in Warsaw last month. Wojciech Misiolek M.S., Sc.D and  Pawel Stankiewicz M.D., Ph.D. of Texas' Baylor College of Medicine are the only two professors currently teaching in United States to be so honored.

Prof. Misiołek is an internationally recognized leader in the field of structural materials, their forming and  processing. His research is focused on development of industrial technologies and understanding of microstructure evolution in different materials during their processing. He served as co-director of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Aluminum Processing Program, an international industrial consortium performing pre-competitive interdisciplinary research that focused mainly on the aluminum extrusion process from 1992 to 1997.

During over 30 years of independent research Prof. Misiołek has contributed over 300 publications (journal peer reviewed and conference papers as well as book chapters) to the research literature and had given over five hundred lectures including workshops and short courses at international and national symposia and at research centers in North and South America, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and Middle East. 
 Prof. Misiołek collaborates with several research institutions around the world and is a recipient of numerous international awards. He is also a Fellow of American Society for Materials International, class of 2005 and Honorary Member of Polonia Technica and Fellow of the Kościuszko Foundation Collegium of Eminent Scientists, New York, NY, since 2016

Prof. Misiołek completed his MS degree in Metallurgy followed by Sc. D. degree at the AGH, the University of Science and Technology in Kraków, Poland, the institution at which he continued his research as an Assistant Professor. After coming to the US in 1987, as a Visiting Scientist and a Kościuszko Fellow at the Lehigh University, prof. Misiołek remained affiliated with this institution until today with nine years break (1988 – 1997) while he was affiliated with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

 Professor Zenon Stęplewski

Zenon Stęplewski MD, Ph.D. is an outstanding Polish oncologist and scholar whose research directly contributed to major advances in immunology and to understanding the biology of cancer.  During his over 30 years tenure at the Philadelphia's Wistar Institute,  a leading international institution in biomedical sciences  (, 

 Dr. Stęplewski pioneered the development of antibodies against tumor-associated antigens and development of cancer vaccines.  Both are currently being used clinically for cancer diagnostics and tumor immunotherapy. He had also continuously mentored and created research opportunities for many Polish scientists several of who established their own independent successful careers in the US.

Dr. Stęplewski is the recipient of several awards from the Polish Ministry of Health, international scientific societies and numerous grants from National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society. He is an author of over 240 research publications, numerous patents and is a member of editorial boards of  several international scientific journals. In recognition of his accomplishments and contributions to scientific research and medicine Dr. Stęplewski has been inducted to the "Kościuszko Foundation Collegium of Eminent Scientists"

Dr. Stęplewski completed his MD, Doctor of Medical Sciences (D.M.Sc.) and Ph.D degrees at the Silesian Medical School in Zabrze and Institute of Immunology of the Polish Academy of Science in Wroclaw, respectively. His advancement through academic ranks cumulated in heading the Department of Tumor Biology  at the Institute of Oncology in Gliwice. Dr. Stęplewski came to US in 1974, originally as an exchange visitors scientist at the Wistar Institute. He remained affiliated with that institution for over 30 years as the Wistar Institute Professor of Microbiology and Immunology. His most recent appointment has been the Professorship od Cancer Biology at the Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. 

Zenon Stęplewski lives with his wife Maryla in Malvern PA. Their home is and has always been a welcoming and warm place for many social gatherings of the members of Polish community of a greater Philadelphia area.