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Nobel Laureate Collapses At NASA Ames Research Center, Dies

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The Nobel Prizes are handed out every year on Dec. 10, the anniversary of award founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.  (AP)

The Nobel Prizes are handed out every year on Dec. 10, the anniversary of award founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896. (AP)

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MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS / AP) — Dr. Baruch S. Blumberg, who shared the 1976 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his discovery of the hepatitis B virus, has died. He was 85.

George Blumberg said Wednesday that his father collapsed Tuesday while at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field to give a speech.

Blumberg shared the 1976 Nobel Prize with D. Carleton Gajdusek for their “discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases,” according to the citation from the prize announcement that year by the Karolinska Institutet. Gajdusek, who died in 2008, shared the prize for his work on so-called “slow viruses.” The infectious agents include one implicated in mad-cow disease

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1925, Blumberg studied at Union College and Columbia University, and later at Oxford’s Balliol College, according to a biography on the website of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. He returned to the United States in 1957 to join the National Institutes of Health and headed its Geographic Medicine and Genetics Section until 1964, when he joined Fox Chase.

After identifying hepatitis B in 1967, Blumberg and colleagues developed blood tests to allow blood banks to screen for the virus, amassed evidence of a link between hepatitis B and liver cancer, and devised a new way to make a vaccine against the virus — the first vaccine capable of preventing a human cancer, the center said.

In 1999, Blumberg became the first director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, which is dedicated to the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and destiny of life in the universe.

“The world has lost a great man,” former NASA administrator Daniel Goldin said, citing the lives saved by his hepatitis B research and his work in building the institute. “Our planet is an improved place as a result of Barry’s few short days in residence.”

George Blumberg said his father’s death came as “a terrible shock” to the family.

“He was leading an incredibly active life, an extraordinary vigorous character and … didn’t seem to have any loss of his capabilities,” he said. “”He was just going strong to the very end.”

Blumberg is survived by wife Jean, sons Noah and George, daughters Anne and Jane, and nine grandchildren.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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