Baruch Samuel Blumberg

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Baruch Samuel Blumberg
Baruch Samuel Blumberg by Tom Trower (NASA).jpg
Born (1925-07-28)July 28, 1925
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died April 5, 2011(2011-04-05) (aged 85)
Mountain View, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Biochemistry, Physiology
Institutions Fox Chase Cancer Center
University of Pennsylvania
NASA Astrobiology Institute
Alma mater Union College
Balliol College, Oxford
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Known for Hepatitis B virus
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Medicine (1976)
Spouse Jean Liebesman (m. 1954)
Children Jane, Anne, George and Noah

Baruch Samuel Blumberg (July 28, 1925 – April 5, 2011) — known as Barry Blumberg — was an American physician, geneticist, and co-recipient of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (with Daniel Carleton Gajdusek) for his work on the hepatitis B virus while an investigator at the NIH.[2] He was President of the American Philosophical Society from 2005 until his death.

Blumberg received the Nobel Prize for "discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases." Blumberg identified the hepatitis B virus and later developed its diagnostic test and vaccine.[2][3]


Early life and education[edit]

Blumberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Ida (Simonoff) and Meyer Blumberg, a lawyer.[4][5] He first attended the Orthodox Yeshivah of Flatbush for elementary school, where he learned to read and write in Hebrew and to study the Bible and Jewish texts in their original language. (That school also had among its students a contemporary of Blumberg, Eric Kandel, who is another recipient of the Nobel Prize in medicine.) Blumberg then attended Brooklyn's James Madison High School, a school that Blumberg described as having high academic standards, including many teachers with Ph.Ds.[6] After moving to Far Rockaway, Queens, he transferred to Far Rockaway High School in the early 1940s, a school that also produced fellow laureates Burton Richter and Richard Feynman.[7] Blumberg served as a U.S. Navy deck officer during World War II.[2] He then attended Union College in Schenectady, New York and graduated from there with honors in 1946.[8]

Originally entering the graduate program in mathematics at Columbia University, Blumberg switched to medicine and enrolled at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he received his M.D. in 1951. He remained at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for the next four years, first as an intern and then as a resident. He then began graduate work in biochemistry at Balliol College, Oxford and earned his Ph.D there in 1957 as well as eventually being the first American to be master there.[9]

Scientific career[edit]

1999 press conference at which Blumberg was introduced as the first director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute

Throughout the 1950s, Blumberg traveled the world taking human blood samples and studying the inherited variations in human beings, focusing on why some people contracted diseases in similar environments that others did not. In 1964, while studying yellow jaundice, he discovered a surface antigen for hepatitis B in the blood of an Australian aborigine.[10] His work demonstrated that the virus could cause liver cancer.[11] Blumberg and his team were able to develop a screening test for the virus to prevent its spread in blood donations and developed a vaccine. Blumberg later freely distributed his vaccine patent in order to promote its fielding by drug companies. Deployment of the vaccine reduced the infection rate of hepatitis B in children in China from 15% to 1% in 10 years.[12]

Blumberg became a member of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia in 1964, and held the rank of University Professor of Medicine and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania starting in 1977. Concurrently, he was Master of Balliol College from 1989 to 1994. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994.[13] From 1999 to 2002, he was also director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.[14][15][16]

In November 2004, Blumberg was named Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of United Therapeutics Corporation,[17] a position he held until his death. As Chairman he convened three Conferences on Nanomedical and Telemedical Technology,[18] as well as guiding the biotechnology company into the development of a broad-spectrum anti-viral medicine.

Beginning in 2005, Blumberg also served as the President of the American Philosophical Society. He had been first elected to membership in the society in 1986.[19]

In October 2010 Blumberg participated in the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Lunch with a Laureate program whereby middle and high school students of the Greater Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland area get to engage in an informal conversation with a Nobel Prize–winning scientist over a brown-bag lunch.[20] Blumberg came to General George A. McCall Elementary on Sept. 29, 2010 as part of the program.

In an interview with the New York Times in 2002 he stated that "[Saving lives] is what drew me to medicine. There is, in Jewish thought, this idea that if you save a single life, you save the whole world".[21]

In discussing the factors that influenced his life, Blumberg always gave credit to the mental discipline of the Jewish Talmud, and as often as possible he attended weekly Talmud discussion classes until his death.[22]


Blumberg died on April 5, 2011,[1] shortly after giving the keynote speech at the International Lunar Research Park Exploratory Workshop held at NASA Ames Research Center.[23] At the time of his death Blumberg was a Distinguished Scientist at the NASA Lunar Science Institute, located at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.[24][25]

Jonathan Chernoff, the scientific director at the Fox Chase Cancer Center where Blumberg spent most of his working life said, "I think it’s fair to say that Barry prevented more cancer deaths than any person who’s ever lived."[26] In reference to Blumberg's discovery of the Hepatitis B vaccine, former NASA administrator Daniel Goldin said, "Our planet is an improved place as a result of Barry's few short days in residence."[27]

His funeral was held on April 10, 2011 at Society Hill Synagogue, where he was a longtime member.[citation needed] The eulogy was delivered by his son-in-law Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the BBC.[28][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roger Highfield (6 April 2011), "The life and times of a vaccine pioneer" (obituary), New Scientist, retrieved 21 April 2011 
  2. ^ a b c ""Baruch S. Blumberg - Autobiography." ''Nobel Prize.''". Archived from the original on 29 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  3. ^ ""Hepatitis B: The Hunt for a Killer Virus" ''Princeton University Press.''". 2010-10-28. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  4. ^ "Medicine Obituaries: Professor Baruch Blumberg". London: The Telegraph. April 6, 2011. Archived from the original on 27 April 2011. Retrieved 8 April 2011. One of three children of a lawyer, Baruch Samuel Blumberg was born on July 28, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, and educated at Far Rockaway High School in Queens, where he won a science prize after making a working refrigerator from junk parts. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Early life and school - Baruch Blumberg: Physician, Web of Stories. Accessed November 25, 2015.
  7. ^ Schwach, Howard. "Museum Tracks Down FRHS Nobel Laureates", The Wave (newspaper), April 15, 2005. Accessed October 2, 2007. "Burton Richter graduated from Far Rockaway High School in 1948."
  8. ^ "Baruch Blumberg '46, winner of Nobel Prize, dies". Union College. Retrieved 8 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "Barry Blumberg". The Economist. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  10. ^ Blumberg, B. S. (1964). "Polymorphisms of the serum proteins and the development of iso-preciptins in transfused patients". Bull N Y Acad Med 40 (5): 377–386. PMC 1750599. PMID 14146804. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Obituary: Barry Blumberg". The Economist. 30 April 2011. p. 92. 
  13. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  14. ^ "Nobel Prize Winner To Lead NASA Astrobiology Institute ''NASA''". Archived from the original on 17 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  15. ^ ""Astrobiology at T+5 Years" ''Ad Astra Magazine/NSS''". 2002-05-09. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  16. ^ Blumberg, B. S. (2003). "The NASA Astrobiology Institute: Early History and Organization". Astrobiology 3 (3): 463–470. doi:10.1089/153110703322610573. PMID 14678657. 
  17. ^ "Scientific Advisory Board". United Therapeutics Corporation. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  18. ^ "Unither Nanomedical & Telemedical Technology Conference". Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  19. ^ "In Memoriam". American Philosophical Society. 2011. Retrieved 8 April 2011. Baruch S. Blumberg, President of the American Philosophical Society from 2005–2011, died on April 5, 2011 at the age of 85. 
  20. ^ "USA Science and Engineering Festival - Affiliate Events". USA Science and Engineering Festival. Archived from the original on February 23, 2013. Retrieved February 23, 2013. 
  21. ^ Segelken, H. Roger (6 April 2011). "Baruch Blumberg, Who Discovered and Tackled Hepatitis B, Dies at 85". New York Times. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  22. ^ "SETI Institute". Archived from the original on 17 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  23. ^ "In Memoriam Baruch S. Blumberg President of the American Philosophical Society 2005-2011". American Philosophical Society. Retrieved 21 April 2011. 
  24. ^ ""Baruch Samuel Blumberg (1925–2011)" ''NASA Lunar Science Institute''". Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  25. ^ ""Nobel Prize Winner Baruch Blumberg Dies of Apparent Heart Attack" ''NASA''". Archived from the original on 16 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  26. ^ Emma Brown (6 April 2011). "Nobelist Baruch Blumberg, who discovered hepatitis B, dies at 85". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  27. ^ Ron Todt (6 April 2011). "Pa. Nobel winner Baruch Blumberg dies in Calif.". U-T San Diego. Associated Press. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  28. ^ "Professor Baruch Blumberg". The Daily Telegraph (London). 6 April 2011. Medicine Obituaries. Archived from the original on 27 April 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011. 
  29. ^ "Sidney Lumet, Baruch Blumberg, Roger Nichols, Edith Helm and Ishbel MacAskill" (radio broadcast). BBC Radio 4 Last Word (BBC). 15 April 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Blumberg, BS (Dec 2002). "Baruch Blumberg--hepatitis B and beyond. Interviewed by Pam Das". The Lancet infectious diseases 2 (12): 767–71. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(02)00458-9. ISSN 1473-3099. PMID 12467696. 
  • Blumberg, BS; Alter, HJ; Visnich, S (Jul 1984). "Landmark article Feb 15, 1965: A 'new' antigen in leukemia sera. By Baruch S. Blumberg, Harvey J. Alter, and Sam Visnich". JAMA 252 (2): 252–7. doi:10.1001/jama.252.2.252. ISSN 0098-7484. PMID 6374187. 
  • Datta, RK; Datta, B (May 1977). "Nobel Prize winners in medicine (1976)". Journal of the Indian Medical Association 68 (10): 216–8. ISSN 0019-5847. PMID 333031. 
  • Payen, JL; Rongières, M (Jan 2003). "History of hepatitis. 3. The age of antigens and electronic microscopy" [History of hepatitis. 3. The age of antigens and electronic microscopy]. La Revue du praticien (in French) 53 (1): 7–10. ISSN 0035-2640. PMID 12673918. 
  • Raju, TN (Oct 1999). "The Nobel chronicles. 1976: Baruch S Blumberg (b 1925); Daniel Carleton Gajdusek (1923)". Lancet 354 (9187): 1394. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)76253-X. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 10533898. 
  • Salmi, A (1976). "Nobel prize winners in physiology and medicine" [Nobel prize winners in physiology and medicine]. Duodecim (in Finnish) 92 (23): 1314–6. ISSN 0012-7183. PMID 1001226. 
  • "The Nobel prize for Medicine in 1976 (DC Gajdusek)(BS Blumberg)" [The Nobel prize for Medicine in 1976 (DC Gajdusek)(BS Blumberg)]. Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde (in Dutch) 120 (46): 1981. Nov 1976. ISSN 0028-2162. PMID 796735. 

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Anthony Kenny
Master of Balliol College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Colin Lucas