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Researching the effect of genetic factors on the hepatitis B virus


Black tie dinners and other Balliol traditions
Baruch Blumberg Physician
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A lot of what I did was go to dinners. I was probably out three or four nights a week, partly or usually, and very often, in black tie, and there's a... there's a kind of ritual in the way you behave. You... you're meant to talk about what the other person's interested in, and then you kind of alternately talk to the person on your right and your left, and as the Master I always felt, when many of the Fellows would have guests, so I always felt like I was kind of the host, so I’d make a point of, you know... Well, as a consequence of that, you know, I've learned an awful lot about many subjects because Balliol was not primarily a science college. We had a lot of people in politics, I mean, a lot, who went on to take, you know, big government positions. Then when I’d travel, we — oh, one of the things I’d evolved there was the development program, you know, raising money for the college because the government threatened, and finally followed through, that they weren't going to provide this financial support they had in the past, and so I started a professional program. I think it was one of the first at... among the colleges, and now all of them have them, and to my great surprise, they kept it up after I left, you know, it's now... it's now extremely good, they have very able people running that and we, you know, we built up the endowment and then we... we were also responsible for our investments. So we'd have these meetings which I actually enjoyed where we talked about, you know, what we're investing in and whether we should buy another shopping center, and actually we... we did pretty well. That was a period when the stock market went up, I think, every year there, you know, just generally it would have... so that meant there were lots of aspects.

Oh, and another funny thing is that... is that back in the few hundred years, you know, when the college was still young and up until the 19th century, the... the Fellows were not allowed to marry. Now, very often they were married clandestinely or unmarried and living in a domestic, effectively, with a wife, but if they... if they wanted to marry, then they had to leave, they could no longer be Fellows, but they were still interested in academic studies. So if they got a job as a... in a country parish, as a vicar, they very often had a lot of time on their hands and they... and their salary was paid by the government, you know, it’s an established church, and so that was a kind of good job for a Fellow. So over time, we inherited the gift of, or acquired, or were given, the gift of about 35 small churches in villages around Oxford and one or two in London. Well, back in the 60s, you know, everybody thought this was kind of nonsense and the... these livings, as they were called, the ability to appoint the vicar, was transferred back to them, but a lot of the places didn't want to do it. They wanted to retain this arrangement, it gave them a kind of protection against the central authorities, I guess. So we still had the right to... to appoint these people and one or two of them were in the gift of the Master. In other words, it wasn't the college who decided, it was the Master. Well, obviously I... I wasn't going to have any role in that, you know, I wasn't a Christian. So... so we had a committee and the chaplain was a very close friend and he was an American, one of the Americans in our Fellowship, and we remain very good friends. So, generally speaking, he would do it, but they insisted on my sort of sitting in and, you know, on an interview, you know, speak to the candidates but never say anything that had a deciding vote. And then... and then we... we had a very active chapel and the... and the... our college chaplain asked me to kind of encourage that, so both Jean and I would go to chapel. I'd sit there, you know, quietly, we had our own pew, but I did give a couple of sermons; one on cynicism, which is common in, more common, in Europe than it used to be in America — we get pretty cynical these days, and the other on... on the sense of order and... and its relation to the testaments, you know, how the concept of order became... comes from having... having a creation story in other words, things happened in an orderly fashion. Therefore, you know, if you don't have order in nature, you can't understand it. So all science is based on the idea that there's... there's a predictable... order, it’s the basis of scientific enquiry.

Well, there were a bunch of other things that happened. I used to travel a lot then, both for scientific reasons and for the college, and we had... we have old members, as they were called, all over and so I, as... as part of my program to kind of reach out to the old members, we set up a series of Master seminars which were extremely good; we brought old members back and students and some of the Fellows that would come would select a topic and the old members would spend, you know, a... the weekend with us. We had them in... and we had several ones in Canada and Hong Kong. The... the governor, the then governor of Hong Kong, was a Balliol alumnus and very devoted to the college, so we had dinner with him once; in Singapore and Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, I think. So it was a very happy... it was a very... but by the end of five years, it was... I was... that was about right. Also, there's compulsory retirement in... in British academics, and the retirement age for our college was 60... was 67. So I was 64 when I took the job and Jean said I'm not going for three years only, I'm not moving all the furniture for three years, so the... and the college wanted me to stay longer so they had to petition the Privy Council. The Privy Council is like the Supreme Court, and they granted us the charter initially, so we had to petition them to extend it to 69. By some convoluted wording, it could only apply to me, so anybody afterwards would have to retire at 67. So I stayed on until I was 69 and I was kind of ready to get back to... although I enjoyed life in Britain immensely, I, you know, I missed American life, I, you know, I like living in America.

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: Balliol College, University of Oxford

Duration: 7 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 28 September 2009