The discovery of the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a typical example of the role of serendipity in scientific progress. In 1967, Dr. Blumberg investigated the link between inherited traits and susceptibility to diseases by taking blood samples from native populations all over the world. These blood samples were tested for the presence of different serum proteins using antibodies derived from blood of haemophiliac patients. Dr. Blumberg reasoned that the immune system of these patients must recognize all blood serum proteins as a result of the blood transfusions they underwent. Using this technique, he discovered a match between an antibody from a haemophiliac patient in New York and a blood serum protein from an Australian aboriginal, which he called Australian antigen. Combination of this finding with research and clinical observations led to the insight that the Australian antigen caused hepatitis or liver inflammation, which in turn led to the discovery of HBV by the virologist Dr. Dane in1970. Two years later, a blood test to identify HBV and a vaccine against the virus were invented. In 1976, Dr. Blumberg was rewarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for this discovery.

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Gilead Sciences
H.L.A. Janssen (Harry)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Op den Brouw, M. (2010, March 17). Dendritic Cells in Hepatitis B Virus Infection: Host-pathogen interaction and immune modulation. Retrieved from