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Forming a research group at Fox Chase Cancer Center


Moving to the Fox Chase Cancer Center
Baruch Blumberg Physician
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That was 1964. So when I was at the National Institutes for Health, I… I was in… I was in the US Public Health Service. Actually, after I got out of the Navy, I stayed in the Naval Reserve for about 14–15 years, and then I transferred to the... switched my commission in effect to the Public Health Service, and I stayed in that until I came here, essentially. The... well, I was very happy actually in NIH, we loved living in Maryland, we had a nice house in the middle of forest and had a lot of good neighbors and it was… there was a beer… a beer ad in Maryland in those days, it was called, you know, Maryland - the Land of Easy Living! Pictures of boating on the Chesapeake and drinking beer, having crab feasts, and so on. So it was a really nice place to live and I was just a few minutes from NIH, we had a very compatible neighborhood, but we decided to go. And I'm not quite sure why, because I wasn't unhappy there. But I think, in retrospect, it was, the Feds tried to make NIH as non-bureaucratic as they could, but it’s… but there was still this kind of heavy hand of a huge administration and great bureaucracy, and — but to give them credit, there was a great effort to mitigate that, and a successful one too. And also they were kind of limited by the categorical nature of the Institutes. You see, I was working on something that wasn't anything to do with arthritis. They probably didn’t quite know where to put me, and when we started the… they were very supportive when I started this program on Genetics and Geographic Medicine, I think I called it — it must have been one of the first programs like that — so they let me have my own section. And eventually I was incorporated into a kind of epidemiology group with Dr Dublin, Tom Dublin, who sadly died just this year at quite an advanced age. And he was a very good mentor and a very nice man and we stayed friends for decades afterwards. But they didn't quite know where I fit, you know, because if you're doing laboratory work, then you can be in the laboratory, if you're doing fieldwork or epidemiology, you had to be off in some place where you didn't have all that lab, and I was saying, but, you know, I’m doing both those things. So it was kind of hard to get... they tried, you know, but I always felt that I was… they were trying to fit me into some slot. It was funny, years later when I was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976, the… the Director of Research at the institute that I was at, DeWitt Stetton was his name, he was a very prominent intermediary metabolism biochemist but the director of our research. He… he called me up and he said, ‘Barry, congratulations, you know when you were here, we had no idea what the hell you were doing!’. I thought… I thought I was a kind of golden boy and that I was really doing well there! But they didn't, I mean it sort of came as a revelation to me, that that wasn't understood. And I think part of it was this idea that you… you work in an environment, you know, you work in a context, and you don't isolate yourself from what's going on. And going on those fieldtrips, you'd always see things on a fieldtrip you couldn't possibly see when you end up just with the stuff in your lab, you know. How did you collect it? What were the people like? What was around it? What was happening? What did you hear when you sat and spoke to people at dinner that night? So… so I wasn't… and my… and my division just disappeared. But one of the good things that happened was that Tom London was there and he came here shortly after, a year or so after I did, and I've worked with Tom since then, essentially.

But okay, so I came here and I was attracted by the kind of atmosphere of the place. I don't think I really articulated, I couldn't, but I… I suppose I must have sensed it, but there was… there was a notion, you know, Tim Talbot was the director then, and I think of all the research directors that I've had anything to do with, he's got to have been the best. He… he didn’t… he'd never done much research; he'd done some. He was trained in, his initial training was an engineer, it's one of the reasons, by the way, why these... the level of maintenance, the engineering in this place is extremely good, you know, it's very hard to find a place that maintains itself quite so well. But also he had this idea that you… the major… activity of a research director is to get out of the way, you know, not to be an impediment. And, but to be there when you need he or she, and Tim understood that. And you always knew Tim's motivations, why he was doing something, at least I thought I did, and what they were was he wanted to do the right thing. You know, Tim was a man of, you know, great principles, a man with great integrity, strong, could be harsh at times; he built this place, to my mind, we are very much a product of Tim's understanding of what science is. At NIH, some of my researchers, they didn't really understand what you could do with science. I mean, it's like not knowing how to use a hammer. Well, and then I had this, when I had been here for a while, I suddenly had this kind of sense of freedom, you know, I wasn’t… there wasn't this big bureaucratic stuff. And another thing that made a big impact; they had just added a little bit to the initial building and you'll see there's a big stone wall of the old building, you know, facing Jean's hospital essentially, and that was the signature of our constructions, we always had, you know, nice masonry, stone. So, you know, the… Jay McKay comes into my office one day and he said, ‘Barry, we have to plant some trees, what should we plant?’ I said, ‘Dawn redwood, Sequoia metasequoia, and also Franklinia alatamaha’, those were my two selections. You know Franklinia alatamaha, named after? No. It's a genus with one species, and you can buy it in nurseries, but the original, the source of it was down at the opening of the Altamaha River in Southern Georgia. I went to look for it once. But in any case, so they planted this, well, it must have been about five feet tall or something in that spring; it's over 60 feet tall now, that gives you an idea how long I have been here!

American research physician Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 along with D Carleton Gajdusek for their work on the origins and spread of infectious viral diseases that led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus. Blumberg’s work covered many areas including clinical research, epidemiology, virology, genetics and anthropology.

Listeners: Rebecca Blanchard

Dr Rebecca Blanchard is Director of Clinical Pharmacology at Merck & Co., Inc. in Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Her education includes a BSc in Pharmacy from Albany College of Pharmacy and a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. While at Utah, she studied in the laboratories of Dr Raymond Galinsky and Dr Michael Franklin with an emphasis on drug metabolism pathways. After receiving her PhD, Dr Blanchard completed postdoctoral studies with Dr Richard Weinshilboum at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on human pharmacogenetics. While at Mayo, she cloned the human sulfotransferase gene SULT1A1 and identified and functionally characterized common genetic polymorphisms in the SULT1A1 gene. From 1998 to 2004 Dr Blanchard was an Assistant Professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. In 2005 she joined the Clinical Pharmacology Department at Merck & Co., Inc. where her work today continues in the early and late development of several novel drugs. At Merck, she has contributed as Clinical Pharmacology Representative on CGRP, Renin, Losartan, Lurasidone and TRPV1 programs and serves as chair of the TRPV1 development team. Dr Blanchard is also Co-chair of the Neurology Pharmacogenomics Working Group at Merck. Nationally, she has served the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics on the Strategic Task Force and the Board of Directors. Dr Blanchard has also served on NIH study sections, and several Foundation Scientific Advisory Boards.

Tags: US Navy, National Institutes of Health, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Tom Dublin, Tim Talbot

Duration: 7 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 28 September 2009