Baruch Blumberg '46, winner of Nobel Prize, dies

Publication Date

Baruch Samuel Blumberg ‘46, whose work led to an effective hepatitis B vaccine and earned him a Nobel Prize in Medicine, died Tuesday, April 5, after suffering an apparent heart attack. He was 85.

Blumberg was expected to return to campus for ReUnion weekend next month to deliver the keynote address at the dedication of the Peter Irving Wold Center, a $22 million, three-story, 35,000-square-foot research and education facility.

Baruch Blumberg '46

NASA/Tom Trower

“We are deeply saddened by the sudden and unexpected death of Dr. Blumberg,” said College President Stephen C. Ainlay. “He was a true visionary in his field and a great friend to the College. We were looking forward to his visit next month to help us celebrate the opening of the Wold Center. He will be truly missed.”

An internationally renowned physician, researcher and scholar, Blumberg is best known for his discovery of the “Australian antigen,” a human antigen that provokes antibody response against hepatitis B. His discovery led to the development of a successful vaccine against hepatitis B, a disease associated with liver cancer. This vaccine was the first developed against a major form of cancer and has been administered to millions of people worldwide.

Blumberg was the co-recipient with D. Carlton Gajdusek, M.D. of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1976 for “discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases" and specifically, for the discovery of the hepatitis B virus. The discovery is considered one of the greatest medical achievements of the 20th century.

He earned his bachelor’s degree with honors in physics at Union in 1946, and received an honorary doctor of laws from the College in 1977.

In October 2007, Blumberg was among the first group to be featured in Union Notables, a rotating exhibit in Schaffer Library that celebrates the great men and women who have studied at Union over two centuries and gone on to make leading contributions in their fields.

His Notable profile is on display in the Biology Department, Science and Engineering Center.