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Dr. Wolfram Ostertag – Former Students and Others Write in Tribute to an Inspiring Scientist F

In view of the current controversy about patents for simply describing a gene, it’s especially interesting to read a tribute written by former students of a great scientist with a major interest in the how and why of hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells are the stem cells that create all the blood cells needed to live.

Judging by this tribute in the scholarly journal titled Human Gene Therapy, Dr. Wolfram Ostertag was quite a scientist and inspirational leader who made profound contributions as a scientist and a leader for young scientists. Another tribute article is here, and notes that he was first published in Science at age 21. That’s akin to arguing to the Supreme Court at age 21.

Dr. Ostertag also declined to obtain a patent for findings now used to help block AIDS. Set out below is a key excerpt from the tribute. As to his work on AZT, it appears it was but a small part of his life’s work. The entire tribute is well worth reading to gain some insights into how and why great scientists lead.

"Almost forgotten but highly remarkable is his important role in the discovery of the antiretroviral activity of azidothymidine (AZT) (Ostertag et al., 1974; Dube and Ostertag, 1991). Back in 1974, he found that AZT inhibits the replication of murine leukemia virus, his preferred genetic tool since the early 1970s. From an economic perspective, it may have been his greatest mistake not to have patented this discovery, which occurred many years before HIV emerged as a new plague of human existence. Work started in his department has led to the development of highly efficient genetic principles to block the entry of HIV into cells (Hildinger et al., 2001)."

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About Kirk

Since becoming a lawyer in 1983, Kirk’s over 30 years of practice have focused on advising a wide range of corporations, associations, and individuals (as both plaintiffs and defendants) on both tort and commercial law issues centered around “mass torts.”

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