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Baruch S Blumberg

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 27 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2666
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. ns{at}

Discovered hepatitis B virus and a diagnostic test

Baruch “Barry” Blumberg learnt a primary mission of medical research while caring for poor and chronically ill people in the crowded wards of New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. It was the early 1950s, and the young intern saw scenes that he would later describe as “reminiscent of [William] Hogarth’s woodcuts of the public institutions of 18th century London,” adding, “Anyone who has been immersed in the world of a busy city hospital, a world of wretched lives, of hope destroyed by devastating illness, cannot easily forget that an objective of big medical research is, in the end, the prevention and cure of disease.”

Blumberg never forgot that objective. After he discovered the elusive cancer causing hepatitis B virus in blood serum from an infected Australian aborigine and described it in a 1967 paper, he developed a diagnostic test to screen for the virus in blood, eliminating the virus from US blood banks (Ann Intern Med 1967;66:924-31). He then helped develop a hepatitis B vaccine, now widely used around the world and credited with saving millions of lives.

Jonathan Chernoff, chief scientific officer at Fox Chase Cancer Center in …

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