Aboriginal Clue to Hepatitis

Today is the 72nd birthday of Baruch Blumberg, an American research physician whose work has led to blood screening and a vaccine against hepatitis B. As chief of the geographic medicine and genetics section of the National Institutes of Health, Blumberg traveled the world and collected blood samples from remote ethnic groups to study inherited variations in blood proteins.

In 1963, while testing the blood of Australian aborigines, Blumberg detected a foreign molecule that was rare in North America. He also discovered that this molecule, which he named the Au antigen, reacted with antibodies in the blood of hemophiliacs who were being monitored for hepatitis strains. Three years later, he identified the Au antigen as part of the hepatitis B virus. Blood banks soon began screening for the virus, and by 1971 the incidence of hepatitis after transfusions had fallen by 25% in the United States. A vaccine from his work became commercially available in 1982. Blumberg, who is now affiliated with Fox Chase Cancer Institute in Philadelphia, received a share of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1976.

[Source: Emily McMurray, Ed., Notable Twentieth Century Scientists (Gale Research Inc., ITP, 1995).]