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Jeffery Taubenberger

Jeffery TaubenbergerSenior Investigator in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Interview location: His office at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland
Interview date: 27th November 2007

Key Themes: Attributes of a Pathologist, Life, death and the hereafterNew Technologies, Research versus Clinical work



Profile   |   Transcript Summary   |   Full Transcript



Every time we ask a simple question about flu and start investigating it we realise that the simple explanations just don’t work.  It’s just an unbelievably complicated and dynamic system.Jeffery Taubenberger is concerned with a serious preoccupation of public health professionals everywhere – when the next flu pandemic will hit us.  In order to predict and prepare for such an event, we need to know what makes 'ordinary' flu viruses periodically become so efficient that they can travel the world in weeks, killing millions.  These questions began to obsess Taubenberger -- then working at the Washington-based Armed Forces Institute of Pathology -- when he discovered in its archive, dating back to the US Civil War, cases of people who had died in the 'Spanish Flu' pandemic of 1918, the deadliest yet.  The first challenge for him and his team was to recover the virus from these ancient blocks and slides, and then to see whether it would yield anything useful.

Now at the National Institutes of Health and head of a brand new 'high containment' laboratory, Taubenberger continues to ask pressing questions about 1918 and other more modern influenza viruses.  “A lot of the ideas and models that have been developed over the last 50 or 60 years to explain how influenza works are just too simplistic; they just don’t fit the complex data that we have now.  And so we’re trying to take a new look at how all of this happens.”

Though viruses are his main focus, as a pathologist he is always aware of the bigger picture: “Infection is really a dance between the host and the pathogen.” The fascination with structure and form that is the cornerstone of his professional life as a pathologist is played out also in his private life, where he is a musician and composer. 

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