Nobel winner Baruch Blumberg honored in Bucks
Hepatitis B Research Foundation takes on a new name
Stuart Lee Friedman
Modern day superheroes can be difficult to recognize. But you must count among them Dr. Baruch Blumberg.
An unassuming, gentle man, he hardly appeared a hero. But the invisible villain he fought was formidable and ubiquitous. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that many people today owe their health – and their lives – to Baruch Blumberg.
Blumberg isolated and identified a killer virus named hepatitis B in 1964. He died in April 2011 before realizing his dream of eradicating the virus from existence, but in his lifetime he developed tests to identify it, and created the hepatitis B vaccine. He made the global blood supply safer and ensured full protection for all who received the hepatitis B vaccine. His accomplishments were considered so significant that he earned the 1976 Nobel Prize in medicine.
Hepatitis B is incurable. It has infected almost a third of the world’s population. The virus claims a million lives every year. It is the leading cause of liver cancer. Two million Americans are chronically infected.
At a standing-room-only ceremony at the Pennsylvania Biotech Center in Doylestown, the Hepatitis B Foundation Research Institute was renamed the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute. Blumberg co-founded the Hepatitis B Foundation with Dr. Timothy Block.
“This isn’t just a name change for us,” Block said. “This is a very sincere, motivational, major profound statement,” he continued, in recognition of the extraordinary contributions of Blumberg’s work to medical science.
Among the guest speakers were state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, state Rep. Marguerite Quinn, Delaware Valley College President Joseph Brosnan, Princeton University former chair and professor of molecular biology Thomas Shenk, and New York Times President and CEO Mark Thompson, who was the keynote speaker.
McIlhinney expressed his commitment to the institute beyond just budgetary advocacy, adding his efforts to keep it “alive in our hearts.” He said that the region has evolved from coal and steel production to biotechnology. “We need to nurture that as much as possible,” he said, calling the industry a job incubator.
Quinn spoke for the Bucks County delegation when she expressed its commitment to the core values of education and jobs and the valuable contributions to those ends by the foundation.
Thompson, who is Blumberg’s son-in-law, added a personal perspective, describing Blumberg as a man of enormous energy and drive “way into what most people describe as old age.” Thompson stressed Blumberg’s sense of curiosity and “straight as a die” personal and professional integrity.
Thompson spoke of Blumberg’s dedication to helping others. “It is hard to connect this,” he said, holding up Blumberg’s old physician’s bag, “with a discovery that would save many millions of lives.”
Blumberg was particularly fond of an expression in Judaism from the Talmud, the basis for Jewish Law: “He who saves one life saves the world entire.” His legacy continues to grow with every person who gets the hepatitis B vaccine.
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