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Glycobiology of the hepatitis B virus


Observations on beneficial effects of hepatitis B antibodies
Baruch Blumberg Physician
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We've done lots of population studies on distribution of hepatitis B in populations and the distributions of the other serological markers, including antibody against the surface, the protective antibody. Well, there's some suggestion from some of the data that we collected in… in Bougainville and in the Solomon Islands years and years ago, but we had the appropriate kind of data and again the collections that Alison Evans and… and Tom London and their colleagues have made in Haimen City in the eastern part of China, that if you look at outcome... survival, well, people who are carriers of hepatitis B virus have a decreased survival compared to people who haven't been infected, and people who have antibody and… but the question is that, it was hinted at that in this data, that the people who developed antibody against the virus actually have a longer survival than the people who weren't infected. Now, the implication of that is it protects against things in addition to… in addition to hepatitis B virus. Now, that's a very… that's a very interesting observation and there was… these are all little hints, you know, this is… this is the kind of observations that could lead to subsequent research. There was great concern about seven or eight years ago, that there was some detrimental side effect to using the vaccine and it particularly had to do with demyelinating disease and there's still this… people are concerned that it may be related to autism, although there was just a study published yesterday that clearly showed there was no connection between the preservative thiomersal that was used in many vaccines and any of these diseases. Well, this concern arose in France and it — not based on any significant data but on much more anecdotal evidence — and as a consequence the French government stopped using the vaccine, probably led to the death of a few hundred people I would say. So, then they did a study and they found that contrary to what had been conjectured, there was actually… the people who’d been vaccinated, had a lower incidence of these demyelinating diseases than the ones that hadn't been vaccinated and I think the difference was actually significant. Now, the major purpose of the study was to allay the fears of the people who were concerned and they started using the vaccine again, but that's a very interesting observation if it's… and, again, it was, I think just to hint, you know, you can only see the kind of thin edge of… of an idea emerging from that kind of murky data, but that's something, I think, you know, it's kind of, how shall I put it, it's kind of… it is reasonable that… that an infectious agent that thrives in a population in which, you know, in western society such as ours, you know, survival has increased, continuously increased. When I was born, life expectancy for males was probably in the low 60s. It's now in the… in the high 70s. If you're born this year, the probability of… of males is — in females still a bit longer — is much… is much ahead of that. Sadly, I’m beyond that expectation, not sadly, I guess. Okay, so I… so a lot of this excitement about, you know, genes being the blueprint, well, they are kind of the blueprint but you look at a blueprint of a house, that's not a house. It just gives… and… and very often when people make the house, it's not like the blueprint either, and that is actually kind of a good metaphor, the good, you know, metaphor. So we have to be very cautious to attribute all this power to the genes. I… I taught at the University of Pennsylvania, taught anthropology and out at Stanford as well, a very similar course, and one of the… one of the assignments I gave the students was to see the movie Gattaca and that's about genetic determination, is that… and that genetics isn't destiny, that There isn't a gene for the human will, was the catch line for that movie. It was, actually, it was a pretty good movie, I think…  it was filmed in the… up in Marin County, in the… in the town hall, county hall in Marin County and I… I thought it was pretty good but it made that point very explicitly that… that that's not your fate.

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: population study, hepatitis B, antibody, vaccine, demyeliting disease, life expectancy

Duration: 5 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 28 September 2009