(CN) – A 93-year-old immunologist who invented the world’s first effective live polio vaccine claims Thomas Jefferson University is imperiling his life’s work by refusing to accommodate his age-related disabilities. Dr. Hilary Koprowski says he supplied the live virus from which Dr. Albert Sabin made the famous oral polio vaccine, and that now the university threatens to confiscate his lab equipment and destroy his cultures.
Koprowski claims the Philadelphia-based university offered him a contract extension in June knowing that he suffered from disabilities that compromise his ability to sit, stand, walk and hear – all of which are major life activities, under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Despite his limitations, Koprowski says, he has continued to work with help from support personnel, including a driver, technician, office manager, grants administrator and an administrative assistant.
But in offering him a new contract, the university said it would no longer pay for his support staff, Koprowski says.
Koprowski says he has offered to pay for the staff out of his own pocket, but the university has refused to even discuss the accommodation.
He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent him and his staff from being barred from the campus, and to prevent the university from confiscating his lab equipment and destroying the experiment-related cultures in the five laboratories previously assigned to him.
Koprowski says to allow that to happen would not only jeopardize his work and a life’s worth of scientific archives, but also the grants that support it.
A native of Warsaw, Koprowski and his wife Irene, a medical doctor, fled the Nazi invasion of Poland and ultimately settled in Pearl River, N.Y., where he was hired as a researcher for Lederle Laboratories, the pharmaceutical division of American Cyanamid.
Shortly thereafter, he embarked on a series of experiments through which he discovered the oral polio vaccine. Koprowski says his vaccine was administered to its first recipient on Feb. 27, 1950 and within 10 years was being used on four continents.
Koprowski says Albert Sabin’s attenuated live virus polio vaccine, acknowledged to be the gold standard of polio vaccines, was developed from an attenuated strain supplied by Koprowski.
Koprowski says he is the author or co-author of more than 875 scientific papers.
Hearing no response to his proposal to pay for his own staff, Koprowski says, he hired an attorney to reiterate his offer. The university responded by declining to deal with the attorney, suggesting it would be more appropriate to discuss such sensitive matters with the scientist alone.
Since then, no one from the Jefferson University has approached Koprowski to discuss the matter, nor have they engaged in the federally mandated interactive process to resolve issues related to his disabilities, the complaint states.
Koprowski says he sued after learning he was at imminent risk of being displaced from his office and research facilities.
Koprowski is represented by Alan Epstein with Spector, Gadon & Rosen of Philadelphia.