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Winner of 1999 Nobel speaks at Marshall

Nov. 15, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

By BETH HENDRICKS

HUNTINGTON -- The wisdom of Albert Einstein spoke to students at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine on Wednesday through the words of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Günter Blobel.

Blobel, recognized worldwide for his research discoveries that shed light on diseases such as cystic fibrosis and kidney stones, was the 1999 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Downplaying the technical and statistical side of his work, Blobel said he hoped to tell the medical students a story about being successful and having the "passionate curiosity" Einstein once spoke of.

"I like that Einstein quote about passionate curiosity. Einstein admitted he was not particularly intelligent, but he had a passionate curiosity. We need to have this intrinsic passionate curiosity," Blobel said, "I want to tell a story. I want to give an example of someone who has been in research for 40 years and what kind of challenges I've faced and how to overcome them.

"I want to give an example of how somebody who has achieved recognition in the field has gone about that."

Born in a small town in eastern Germany in 1936, Blobel and his family fled the country during World War II. His oldest sister was killed a few weeks later in an air attack.

He went on to receive his M.D. and later, his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. For decades, Blobel, a cellular and molecular biologist at Rockefeller University in New York, has studied the protein distribution system within cells. His work has benefited physicians' understanding of diseases such as cystic fibrosis and kidney stones. His current research is focused on understanding the communication between a cell's nucleus and cytoplasm which, experts say, may be the key to explaining how diseases like cancer occur. Blobel said a lot has been learned in the field of scientific research, but there is much more to be explored.

"We have to understand much more about cells. We've learned a great deal, but we have more to learn. We have to have much more basic knowledge," he said. "We have converted cancer into a much more chronic disease, but not cured it. There is a cocktail of drugs to help people live 20, 30, 40 years, but there are many other diseases and many challenges to face."

During Blobel's Marshall appearance, which he said he enjoyed because Marshall is not on "the road map of every speaker," he was presented with an honorary doctoral degree in science from Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp. Blobel called the award a surprise and honor.

"He is among the most respected researchers in the world and it is with great pleasure and great pride that we bestow upon him our highest honor, the honorary doctoral degree," Kopp said.

"It is inspiring for us to meet with a scientist like Dr. Blobel, someone who has truly reached a scientific pinnacle," said Dr. Joseph I. Shapiro, dean of the School of Medicine.

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