Baruch Samuel Blumberg


Baruch Samuel Blumberg
(1925)



American research physician whose discovery of an antigen that provokes antibody response against hepatitis B led to his development with Irving Millman of a successful vaccine against the disease. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 with D. Carleton Gajdusek for their work on the origins and spread of infectious viral diseases.
Blumberg received his M.D. degree from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and his Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from Oxford University in 1957. In 1960 he became chief of the Geographic Medicine and Genetics Section of the U.S. National Institutes for Health, in Maryland. In 1964 he was appointed associate director for clinical research at the Institute for Cancer Research, Philadelphia, and he served as professor of medicine, human genetics, and anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania during the 1960s and '70s.

In the early 1960s Blumberg was examining blood samples from widely diverse populations in an attempt to determine why the members of different ethnic and national groups vary widely in their responses and susceptibility to disease. In 1963 he discovered in the blood serum of an Australian aborigine an antigen that he later (1967) determined to be part of a virus that causes hepatitis B, the most severe form of hepatitis. The discovery of this so-called Australian antigen, which causes the body to produce antibody responses to the virus, made it possible to screen blood donors for possible hepatitis B transmission. Further research indicated that the body's development of antibody against the Australian antigen was protective against further infection with the virus itself. In 1969 Blumberg and Millman applied for a patent for the vaccine, which was granted in the United States and other countries in the early 1970s. In 1982 a safe and effective vaccine utilizing Australian antigen was made commercially available in the United States.


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