Tag Archives: Oxford

Jew of the Week: Baruch Blumberg

Hepatitis B and The First Cancer Vaccine

Baruch Samuel “Barry” Blumberg

Baruch Samuel Blumberg (1925-2011) was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn. He studied at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, and then at Far Rockaway High School in Queens (which was also attended by fellow prominent scientist and former Jew of the Week Richard Feynman). After serving in the US Navy during World War II (attaining the rank of commanding officer), Blumberg studied math and medicine at Columbia University. He earned his MD in 1951, worked as a doctor for several years, then enrolled at Oxford University to do a PhD in biochemistry. Decades later, he would be elected Master of Oxford’s prestigious Balliol College (founded all the way back in 1263), making him the first American and the first scientist to hold the title. In the 1960s, Blumberg discovered the hepatitis B antigen, and soon showed how the virus could cause liver cancer. His team began working on a diagnostic test and a vaccine, and successfully produced both. Although Blumberg had a patent on the vaccine, he gave it away freely to save as many lives as possible. (One thirty-year follow up study showed that the vaccine reduced infection from 20% to 2% of the population, and liver cancer deaths by as much as 90%. Some have therefore called it the first cancer vaccine.) Blumberg was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work with hepatitis B, and his “discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases.” In 1992, he co-founded the Hepatitis B Foundation, dedicated to helping people living with the disease, and funding research for a cure. Meanwhile, Blumberg taught medicine and anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Incredibly, he also directed NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, was president of the American Philosophical Society, and a distinguished scholar advising the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, as well as the Library of Congress. He had worked for the National Institutes of Health, and The Institute for Cancer Research. Blumberg remained Torah-observant throughout his life, and rarely missed his weekly Talmud class. He credited his Jewish studies as a youth for sharpening his mind and allowing him to excel in academia, and once said that he was drawn to medicine because of the ancient Talmudic statement that “if you save a single life, you save the whole world.” Fittingly, it has been said that Blumberg “prevented more cancer deaths than any person who’s ever lived.”

Words of the Week

Science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how we go to heaven.
– Renowned evolutionary bologist Stephen J. Gould

Jew of the Week: Ruth Deech

Ruth Lynn Fraenkel (b. 1943) was born in London to Jewish-Polish refugees who fled the Nazis. She studied law at Oxford University’s prestigious St. Anne’s College, and there met her future husband John Deech. After getting her MA, she briefly taught law at Windsor University in Canada, then returned to St. Anne’s and taught there for two decades before being elected its principal in 1991. As a specialist in family law and bioethics, she also headed Oxford’s Health Authority, and eventually became the governor of the UK Department of Health’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The HFEA regulates fertility treatments, in-vitro fertilization, and embryological research across the UK. As its governor, Deech made some difficult and controversial decisions, including one case where a woman was forbidden from having a baby with her dead husband’s frozen sperm. She also fought against the decision to allow birth certificates not to name a father, stating “I regret the downgrading of the father as a person of importance – the legislative dismissal of the contribution of half the population to the upbringing of the next generation” and that “Tolerance of both types of parenting has to be ensured.” In 2002, Deech was knighted as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. That same year she was appointed governor of the BBC. Following this role, she was made a life peer of the House of Lords, and given the title Baroness Deech of Cumnor. At the same time, she served as the chairman of the Bar Standards Board, which regulates lawyers across England and Wales, and sat on the Jewish Leadership Council. Deech remains one of the world’s most renowned academics and ethicists. Oxford University recently named one of its buildings after her, and she was once ranked on “The God List” of the fifty most influential “people of faith” in Britain. She also regularly stands up for the Jewish community, and for Israel – at Oxford, in the House of Lords, and on the international stage.

Baroness Ruth Deech Explains the Silliness of Israel Boycotts

What is Freedom?

Words of the Week

Someday, when history will be written, it will be said there was a Jewish woman who got the money to make the State possible.
– David Ben-Gurion on Golda Meir’s successful 1948 trip to the US to raise money for the nascent State of Israel. She raised $55 million, vital to Israel’s Independence War effort.