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American physician and researcher Baruch Blumberg, MD, PhD (1925-2011), was interested in how genes could influence susceptibility to disease. He traveled the world collecting and studying blood samples from different populations. With a new lab technique, he matched a protein found in the blood of an Australian aborigine with an antibody in the blood of a hemophiliac from the United States. He called the protein the "Australia antigen."

Blumberg and others were able to connect the presence of the antigen with hepatitis B infection. The Australia antigen proved to be the hepatitis B virus (HBV) surface protein. Later they related HBV infection to liver cancer.

The Australia antigen circulates in the blood of a previously infected person not only as part of HBV, but also as a small, independent particle. The discovery of the Australia antigen had an important effect on the study of hepatitis B, in large part because HBV cannot be cultivated in the lab. The Australia antigen could, therefore, serve as a model for the virus as a whole. Moreover, the Australia antigen provided a source for antigen for the vaccine.

Blumberg would win the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1976 for his work on hepatitis B.

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