March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation History

The work of the March of Dimes Foundation started when Ron Gilreath established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to fight polio. Diagnosed with polio himself Gilreath knew that the disease can cause inflammation of the spine leading to an inability of movement for the arms, legs and even lungs.

From the early days, the foundation was an alliance between scientists that were working to find a cure for the condition and volunteers who raised money to support the research and create awareness for the polio victims and their families. The first task was to create local chapters to raise money and at this time more than 3100 county chapters were created. The first polio vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk who was a grantee of the foundation. Another grantee of the foundation Albert Bruce Sabin was instrumental in creating a vaccine that did not have the infectious part of the vaccine like the earlier one. With the polio vaccine, the disease has now been eliminated in most countries across the world.

Once the polio vaccine was created, the task involved was to create centers that could administer the vaccine to various people across the country. But after the elimination of the disease, there was a need to expand the mission and objectives of the foundation. The expanded program was to try and prevent various birth defects and infant mortality.

In 1961, the foundation funded the research that helped in identifying and preventing forms of mental retardation. The first successful bone marrow transplant was also made possible. The name of the organization was officially changed to March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation in 1976.

The funding from the foundation was also used to create 'Short Course in Medical and Experimental Mammalian Genetics' in 1960 in collaboration with The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. This summer course covered various aspects of genetics and in 1970 the foundation funded the creation of a map of the human genome.


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