Childhood & Early Life
He was born on July 28, 1925, in Brroklyn, New York, in a Jewish family to Meyer Blumberg and his wife Ida. Meyer was a lawyer.
He completed his elementary education from ‘Yeshivah of Flatbush’, a Modern Orthodox private Jewish day school in Brooklyn. Here he was taught to read and write in Hebrew and studied the Jewish texts and the Bible in their original form. The school produced another Nobel Laureate, Eric Kandel, one of his contemporaries.
Thereafter he studied at ‘James Madison High School’ following which he relocated to Far Rockaway, Queens, where he joined ‘Far Rockaway High School’. The other Nobel Laureates having studied in the school were Richard Feynman and Burton Richter.
Soon after completing high school studies from ‘Far Rockaway High School’ in 1943, he joined the US Navy as a deck officer in the midst of the ‘Second World War’.
He completed college studies from ‘Union College’ in Schenectady, New York, under military sponsorship graduating with honors in BS Physics in 1946. The same year he left active military duty.
In 1947 he completed MS in mathematics from ‘Columbia University’ and then switched his field and joined ‘Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons’ to study medicine.
In 1951 he earned his MD from ‘Columbia University’.
From 1951 to 1955 he remained an intern and thereafter a resident at the ‘Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center’.
Thereafter he enrolled at the ‘Balliol College’ of the ‘University of Oxford’ and started his graduation work in biochemistry. He obtained his Ph.D from the college in 1957.
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He was inducted as Chief of the ‘Geographic Medicine and Genetics Section’ of the ‘National Institutes of Health’ (NIH) of the US in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1960.
In 1964, the ‘Institute for Cancer Research’ (presently the ‘Fox Chase Cancer Center’) located in Philadelphia inducted him as the ‘Associate Director for Clinical Research’. He began his notable research work on epidemiology and virology in this institute during the 1960s which led him travel around the world with his colleagues.
During such field trips he investigated blood samples from hugely diverse population across the globe from Japan to Africa striving to resolve the reasons behind varying exposure and reaction to disease by people of different national and ethnicity. He tried to find out the reason behind contraction of disease by some people exposed to similar environments but not by all.
While he was examining yellow jaundice, in 1964, Blumberg found a surface antigen in the blood serum of an aborigine of Australia. In 1967 he discovered that the antigen is a component of a virus that is responsible for the most dangerous type of hepatitis, which is hepatitis B. He displayed that the virus has capacity of causing liver cancer.
As chance of transmission of the virus through blood transfusions was a common possibility, Blumberg and his associates further investigated and developed a test to screen for the virus to restrict it from spreading via blood donations.
Moving forward he developed a vaccine to curb the disease and later distributed the patent of the vaccine freely. Proper channelization and implementation of the vaccine in China saw an impressive reduction in the rate of children infected with hepatitis B to 1 % from earlier level of 15% in a span of ten years.
Beginning 1977 he worked as University Professor of Anthropology and Medicine at the ‘University of Pennsylvania’.
In 1986 he was elected as a member of the ‘American Philosophical Society’ and later in 2005 he was made the President of the society.
From 1989 to 1994 he remained Master of the ‘Balliol College’ of the ‘University of Oxford’.
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In 1994 Blumberg had the honour of getting elected as a Fellow of one of the oldest and most renowned honorary societies and a prominent centre for policy research in the US, the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’.
He held the position of Director of the ‘NASA Astrobiology Institute’ at the ‘Ames Research Center’ located in Moffett Field in California from 1999 to 2002.
He became a member of the ‘Library of Congress Scholars Council’, a group of remarkable and noted scholars, in 2001and served it till he was alive. The members, who are inducted by the Librarian of Congress, advise the latter on scholarship related matters.
The ‘United Therapeutics Corporation’, a biotechnology company headquartered at Silver Spring, Maryland, US inducted him as the Chairman of its ‘Scientific Advisory Board’ in November 2004. He held the post till his death. During this tenure he organised three conferences related to Telemedical and Nanomedical Technology and also guided the company in developing a comprehensive anti-viral drug.
He authored many books including ‘Australia Antigen and Hepatitis’ (1972), ‘Hepatitis B and the Prevention of Cancer of the Liver’ (2000) and ‘Hepatitis B: The Hunt for a Killer Virus’ (2002).
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1954 he married Jean Liebesman, an artist and the couple was blessed with two sons, George and Noah and two daughters, Anne and Jane.
He considered the mental discipline of the Jewish Talmud as one of the influencing factors in his life and always tried, as far as possible, to attend the weekly Talmud sessions throughout his life.
On April 5, 2011, he died shortly after delivering a speech at the ‘International Lunar Research Park Exploratory Workshop’ which was held at the ‘Ames Research Centre’, of the ‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration’ (NASA) in California. According to his family he supposedly suffered a heart attack. He is survived by his wife, four children and nine grandchildren.
His funeral proceedings took place at the ‘Society Hill Synagogue’, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 10, 2011. He was a long-time member of the synagogue.