Mountain View Voice

News - June 24, 2011

Tribute to Hepatitus B researcher

by Daniel DeBolt

On Tuesday, June 21, NASA Ames Research center paid tribute to the man who identified the Hepatitus B virus and developed the vaccine for it. Baruch "Barry" Blumberg, winner of the Nobel Prize, died while visiting Ames this spring.

Blumberg, 85, passed away April 5 while attending the International Lunar Research Park Exploratory Workshop at Ames as a featured speaker. A NASA Ames spokesperson said Blumberg had a heart attack during a break and died after being rushed to the hospital.

Blumberg traveled the world studying diseases in the 1950s and discovered the antigen for Hepatitis B in the blood of an Aboriginal Australian. He freely distributed the patent for his vaccine to promote its use as widely as possible. The blood test he developed has also kept Hepatitis B from spreading through blood transfusions.

Blumberg shared the 1976 Nobel Prize with D. Carleton Gajdusek for their work on the "origin and dissemination of infectious viral diseases."

"Barry Blumberg was a great biochemist and researcher," said Ames Center Director Pete Worden in a press release. "He was a leading light in the scientific community and a great humanitarian. He also was a loyal and supportive friend to NASA, Ames Research Center and the nation's space program."

Blumberg, a native of Brooklyn and graduate of Columbia University, was also the first director of the Astrobiology Institute at Ames, from 1999 to 2002, and was a distinguished scientist at the NASA Lunar Science Institute. He began in 1977 a long-held position as professor of medicine and anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Former head of NASA Daniel Goldin was slated to speak at the ceremony, along with Blumberg's family and NASA Ames director Pete Worden.

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