Harvey J. Alter

Biographical

Harvey J. Alter portrait

I never had no Nobel dreams

Iwas born in 1935, a pivotal year in American history, although it is possible that my birth had nothing to do with these historical events. In 1935, the US was emerging from the Great Depression and the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 instilled hope for a new deal. Hope was on the rise and a newborn such as myself had the opportunity to live in a freer, more progressive and more prosperous world. But for those with foresight, 1935’s optimism was tempered by a growing fear of the rising tide of fascism in Europe. The Big Lie was to counter The Big Hope and by the time I was six, the US was at war with a Nazi regime that had already overrun most of continental Europe. Only England and Winston Churchill stood between my childhood and a direct attack on US soil.

I do not have many direct memories of my birth year since my brain cells were as immature as the rest of me. Indeed, I could not talk for that entire first year nor could I play a competitive game of Scrabble. However, at some subliminal level, it is possible that these opposing forces of hope and despair were imprinted on my developing psyche. In retrospect, I see 1935 as a harbinger of the future vicissitudes of my existence, the yin and yang of Harvey Alter.

Most of my conscious early memories were strongly influenced by World War II. After the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, our isolationist, conservative Congress declared war on Germany and Japan barely in time to support an embattled Britain and its courageous people. However, we did not enter in time to prevent the annihilation of 6 million Jews. My people were decimated by a monstrous force beyond imagination in the 20th century. Not until I later saw films of piled skeletons did I realize the ravages that occurred as I grew up in pristine and protected Ridgewood Queens.

What I do remember of the war years was that my life was barely affected by it. I played ball in the streets and went to school just as before. I was reminded of the war only by newsreels in the movie theaters and a rash of exciting war films where the Americans always won the critical battles. There was no TV or social media in those days so the news came only from radio and from newspapers that I did not read. Because of my young age and because there was some censorship of bad news, I didn’t realize the truth and horror of war and was always certain America and the allies would ultimately win. This certainty abated fear. To me, the hardship of war was that I had to wait on line for bubble gum and was restricted to only two pieces, that we had to use black-out shades, that my favorite pink Spalding balls were in short supply because the rubber was being used by the military, that my father would leave the house at night to roam the streets as an air-raid warden and that we were encouraged to plant victory gardens which was difficult because the closest earth to our apartment was a mile away. One of the most exciting events of my war experience was that the FBI captured a German spy who was living in the apartment house next to ours, the FBI had picked up signals from his radio-transmitter. Who knows what the spy relayed to Germany about myself and my gang of friends? A second war memory was that I returned home from grammar school one day to find my mother crying. President Roosevelt had died and for my family, it was a time of profound mourning. In contrast, when I returned to the street in my predominantly German neighborhood, there were people cheering because Roosevelt was perceived as anti-German and most critically, a “Jew lover.” My neighborhood was not a paean for democracy or emblem of liberalism, but the latent anti-semitism was not generally manifest.

As alluded to, I measured out my youth in pink Spalding balls, thrown on traffic laden city streets, hurled against walls, stoops and curbstones, hit with bats, racquets and shortened broomsticks, and constantly lost to gaping sewer drains or thrust on commercial rooftops lined in jagged glass to thwart retrieval. These balls were my lifeblood and I was seldom without one. A lost ball required immediate replacement which was done at Olsen’s candy store where I would get a free chocolate egg-cream using Frequent Spalding Mile credits and where I would also buy a comic book. The ecstasy of buying a new ball and a new comic book was the equivalent of buying a new Lexus today. Harold Olsen was one of my two best friends and after school he had to run his father’s candy store until it closed at 10:00 pm. I spent a lot of time there and was always amazed at his business skill even as a teenager, and his hard work and sacrifices bore fruit because 30 years later he was made president of the mid-west division of Macy’s; a true Horatio Alger story.

I spent my first 17 years on one street of apartment houses and stoopfronted duplexes. These were modest edifices in a lower middle-class neighborhood. My family, though not wealthy, were better off financially than most of our neighbors and sufficiently solvent to escape the sweltering city in the summer when I was young and then to send me to summer camp in my early teens. I was privileged in a modest way. Our apartment was on the second floor of a 5-story building. Directly below our apartment was a muscle building studio and a barbershop. Given the proximity of these establishments one would have thought that I would have grown up stronger and with more hair. Putnam Avenue, the street I lived on for 17 years, was nestled between two commercial avenues. Within 3 blocks of my house were 3 movie theaters one or the other of which I attended twice a week, a German delicatessen where I would get delicious ham sandwiches unbeknownst to my kosher mother, a kosher delicatessen where I loved hot pastrami sandwiches even better than ham, innumerable candy and magazine stores like Olsen’s, a very good Chinese restaurant, a hobby shop where I spent endless hours selecting the next wood model to put together, my pediatrician, a synagogue and the rabbi who lived in the next apartment house and whom we had to assiduously avoid when driving on the sabbath. There were all manner of clothing stores, small food markets, butcher shops and even a live chicken market. When going to the butcher shop with my mother, I was intrigued by the butcher knives and the way they methodically sliced the fat off the choice cuts that my mother ordered from Abe the Butcher. For a brief period in my childhood I wanted to be a butcher, and I am now surprised that I was not drawn to being a surgeon. In any case, Ridgewood Queens was a thriving and bustling neighborhood of which I knew every inch. Hence, the family did not move for 25 years because there was nothing we were missing, unless, of course, you count luxury. I might still be there, if college did not intervene.

My parents were first generation Americans, their parents emigrating from Western Russia and Poland. Recently, when I had a gene profile, I was found to be 99.5% Ashkenazy Jew. We are still looking for the other 0.5% who disrupted the purity of my family tree. My parents were both good and kind people who showered me with love. My sister, Jackie, who was 5 years older, also treated me well though she often joked that she was an only child. Although my parents tried to be evenhanded, I think that I got favored treatment because my sister challenged them more, but Jackie never seemed resentful of me. She died about 3 years ago with dementia and smoking-induced obstructive lung disease. By the time she reached age 75, our parents, her husband and her two children had all died and I became her sole caretaker, albeit with the substantial help of an excellent nursing home. She died in hospice at age 85, my mother died at age 79 and my father at 81. I somehow always expected to die at the same age as my father, but here I am writing this autobiography at age 86 so I am, as they say in the gambling world, living on house money. I am intrigued by Woody Allen’s idea of achieving immortality, not by great accomplishments, but by not dying. For me, so far so good.

Despite their good natures, my parents had one major flaw… they didn’t get along. Their personalities were diametrically opposed. My father, one of 9 children from the lower east side of Manhattan, was college educated, active in the business world, president of every organization he belonged to, expansive in his thinking, handsome, a fashion plate, interested in the arts, particularly opera, adventurous and flamboyant. My mother came from meager beginnings. Her father died early in her life and she was raised by my favorite grandmother who earned a living by working a push-cart in the Bronx and in old age was supported by my father. Whether because of this hard beginning or other psychological factors, my mother grew up as a fearful person, afraid to take risks, to try new things, to drive, to spend money, to fully engage in life. Hence, my parents often argued, one wanting to move forward, the other holding back. The arguments affected me deeply because to my young mind they portended divorce. I often wondered which parent I would be left with and how I would bear the shame because I had no other friends whose parents had separated, divorce being rare in those days. My fears were not justified, as they remained married for 60 years and between arguments had a reasonably good life together. Nonetheless, I was stuck in their polarization, trying not to take sides while admiring my father more but sympathizing with my mother because she played the role of the eternally injured party. Their dichotomy influenced my personality because I too became dichotomous, on the one side fearful and holding back and on the other trying to break out and be more expansive. While my parents did not separate, their dipole exists in me.

Because my parents were overly protective of me, they allowed my elementary school to place me in a specialized health class, the concept of which was that an extra carton of milk and a rest period after lunch would instill vigor and growth. This decision, over which I had no control, separated me from my usual classmates and curriculum and labelled me as different when all I wanted to be was the same. The Health class was for kids who were too thin, too fat, too lazy, too active or too anything but the school’s definition of “normal.” I was ashamed to be segregated in this way, but nonetheless adapted, as is my tendency. I made some nice friends among the more normal of the “abnormal” and developed a crush on Roxanne who became perhaps my first sort-of girlfriend and bestowed my first real kiss. Ms. Gunther, the only teacher in the class, deemed me the brightest in the class and had me skip an entire year of elementary school. This magnanimous gesture, however, had its downside as I graduated at age 13 and entered high-school as the smallest in the class. I could have used another year of extra milk.

Although I was likeable and had a “good personality” and was even funny, because I was small and shy and socially inept, despite Roxanne, high school was not a great time for me. I did pretty well scholastically, but was not an outstanding student, wrote for the school paper and magazine, won some minor honors and a national essay contest and most importantly, grew to a reasonable size. They were able to take my face off the milk cartons and send a good progress report to Ms. Gunther. Overall, my high school days were nothing like one sees in the movies; Ferris Bueller or Tom Cruise, I was not. So, I will give short shrift to my highschool years as they were less than memorable.

After visiting six small coed colleges in the Northeast, I selected the University of Rochester because it had a renowned medical school that I ultimately attended. I did not apply to Harvard or Yale, but thought they would call me anyway. Somehow, they did not. If you are listening, Harvard, it is still not too late to call. I got off to a rough start academically getting a D on my first essay, despite the fact that writing was my strong point. My first mid-term GPA was C+ and I saw my medical career careening into an abyss of uncertainty. High school had been too easy and my study habits were poorly founded. I then taught myself to study hard and my grades responded accordingly. I graduated cum laude, but not magna or summa. I was sort of a “cum plus laude.” My subsequent achievements may have surpassed my innate intelligence through extra effort and perseverance. I remember a meeting with my college advisor at the end of my junior year where he told me that I had done much better than they had expected. Exceeding expectations may be the keynote of my life.

College represented my social transformation. I grew up fast emotionally in that first year at the University of Rochester. I did not join a fraternity as most freshmen did. Being an independent proved to be a great advantage, giving me some stature among those who were not accepted into or declined to join the fraternity system. I became a small big-man on campus, was managing editor of the school paper, was elected into the junior and senior honorary societies, made great friends and generally thrived. My social life burgeoned, my social skills accelerated and my shyness with women dissipated. I loved those four years, possibly the best in my life, and if I had one wish, it would be to relive them.

Toward the end of my senior year I received a letter that was the fulfillment of my life’s dream, an acceptance letter to Rochester Medical School. Only at the birth of my children did I ever experience equal elation. My path was set, though it was yet to take several twists and turns. If there was one week in my life that stands out, it would be the week after finals of my senior year when I awaited graduation, had absolutely no responsibilities and had my medical school acceptance letter in my back pocket. I have been trying to recreate that pressure-less feeling for the past 60 years and fear I am running out of time.

Medical school was everything I had hoped for. I found almost every course interesting, even anatomy, and each succeeding year more interesting as the program became more clinical. We had only 70 students in a class and grades were not given out to decrease competitiveness. Only if you were doing poorly were grades revealed to you. Fortunately, I never knew. The medical curriculum was highly integrated with the psychiatric service headed by John Romano and George Engel, two giants in the field. Great emphasis was given to medical history-taking and to understanding the patient as a person as well as a disease. This approach has stayed with me and has enhanced my patient interactions. I have found that what patients want most from their doctor, in addition to competence, is his or her time and empathy. NIH has allowed me to spend quality time with patients and that has greatly enriched my clinical experience. I found it incredibly rewarding to see patients in the context of a study that had a beginning and an end that could be summarized in a publication. That was the path I ultimately chose but it was a very circuitous path.

In med school I was fascinated by many subjects, the first being pathology which I learned from Lowell Orbison, who wrote a classic text and later became Dean. I wanted to take a year out studying under Orbison but he told me that I would also have to do autopsies and that put a cadaverous chill on the deal. In my clinical rotations, I was intrigued by ophthalmology and how many medical conditions had diagnostic ocular manifestations. By my next rotation, I was on to something else, but I am now back to the eye as I have developed dry macular degeneration, but so far without visual consequences. I am now also fascinated by studies that are restoring vision through stem cell implants. Pediatrics was another attraction, but I realized that my forte was verbal communication and pediatrics required other skills; also, I could not emotionally handle the death of infants and children. Thus, I navigated to internal medicine and particularly hematology. I liked the process of differential diagnosis that internal medicine demanded and still love to read diagnostic dilemmas in the New England Journal and the Health Sections of the New York Times and Washington Post. My big diagnostic breakthrough came as an intern when I had a patient with unexplained acute renal failure. No one could discern the cause until an eavesdropping patient in the same room showed me an article from Readers Digest that described a case of renal failure due to carbon tetrachloride (CCL4) toxicity. It was well known that CCL4 caused hepatotoxicity when ingested, but this lay article noted that it caused renal disease when inhaled. On further questioning of the patient, who was a long-haul truck driver, I found that he slept in the cab of his truck which housed a fire extinguisher in close proximity to his bed. I obtained the keys to his truck that was parked about a mile from the hospital. I then embarked on my first epidemiologic investigation. I found the truck and the sleeping cabin and the extinguisher just above the bed. Reading the metal tag, I was excited to find that the fire extinguisher was fueled by CCL4 and importantly that it was empty, the fumes already residing in my patient. Case closed! I was a medical hero for a brief time and was asked to give Grand Rounds where I was both the case presenter and the discussant, a rare event at the intern level. I have subsequently given Grand Rounds many times in my life, but this one was the most scary, most exciting and most memorable. The patient recovered fully and was prescribed a new fire extinguisher. The patient who clued me in to the Reader’s Digest article shared in my fleeting glory.

I seemed to have segued into my internship year at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY. This was another pivotal year in my medical growth curve. I learned very rapidly how little I knew of real medicine coming out of medical school. Learning the Henderson-Hasselbalch Equation in physiology was quite different than managing a patient with renal failure and electrolyte imbalance. Memorizing the Krebs cycle in biochemistry was quite remote from managing diabetic ketoacidosis. Internship engendered a steep learning curve. It was a sink or swim environment. Once I caught on, I felt empowered and enjoyed that year more than any other in my training despite the long hours and intense pressure. Fortunately, Strong Memorial had a humane night-float system so that after 10:00 pm one could pass on new admissions to the night float. This did not mean that my day ended at 10 pm, because one still had to clean up the day residue and then write up cases admitted before 10. Generally, I would be writing notes to 2 or 3:00 am, often cat-napping as I did so. Many years later I returned to these wards and while flipping charts, by chance, found one of my old notes which was characterized by a descending line on the paper where I had fallen asleep mid-note. Unmarried interns lived in the staff house, which was a cross between a dormitory and a bordello, as various nurses slipped in and out of the rooms of the interns they were dating. Some things were even more important than sleep. Having free room and board at that time was essential because the annual intern’s salary was $600. This amount seemed to suffice because there was no time to spend it on entertainment or fine meals and no need for clothes beyond the white pants and white jacket that were provided. Only those who smoked were short on cash. My main source of entertainment, beyond that alluded to above, was to watch Robert Stack in the Untouchables, a weekly episode that I prioritized above all else. I hope that no patients were lost as a consequence of my addiction to this FBI drama. My internship year was lightened by a wonderful relationship with a woman whom I will call Sue, because that was her name. Sue was beautiful, sweet and uncomplicated and a person I might have married, if I had not been brainwashed since childhood that the worst thing I could do to my parents was to marry out of my religion. It was a Hebraic curse placed on Jewish children and it was powerful. As you will see, I later broke through this guilt-driven curse, but that was too late for Sue and myself. It is a chapter in my life whose end I will never know.

I continued my tenure at Strong Memorial by entering their Internal Medicine residency. It was easier to be a resident because the program was intern-centric, but I enjoyed being the hands-on intern more than the advisory resident. Near the beginning of my residency, I received a letter that was to dictate the future course of my life … my career path, my wife-to-be and consequently the children I would have. It was 1961 and the letter, which I still have, was from my draft board and began with the infamous word, “Greetings.” I had been drafted into the army and was to report to Fort Dix, New Jersey by Nov. 30 of that year. They even attached a subway token to help me get there, though the subway from upstate New York to New Jersey, encompassing about 400 miles, had not yet been built. I’m still holding that token should it ever come to pass. I can’t overstate the pivotal nature of that invitation from the government. Had I gone into the army, I probably would have been sent to Germany for the Berlin crisis that was the basis for calling up previously deferred physicians at that time. After 2 years in the army, I would definitely have gone into clinical practice since that had been my long-term goal and since I would have had no research experience to direct me toward academia. The alternative was that I could spend my military time at NIH where I had already been accepted, but not yet commissioned in the Public Health Service (PHS). This critical fork in the road had my future teetering on divergent paths. Either might have been fine, but in retrospect, the path I ultimately took to NIH had amazing outcomes I could never have anticipated. Through multiple conversations with the PHS, I learned that if I could secure a position at NIH and report there before my draft date, the PHS had authority over the draft. With the help of Scott Swisher, the head of Rochester hematology, I found a position at the Division of Biologic Standards (DBS), the forerunner of the FDA and the division responsible for the Clinical Center Blood Bank. I reported to DBS on Nov. 27, 1961, 3 days before my scheduled visit to Fort Dix. Fortunately, DBS did not require that I do push-ups every morning. DBS had an active research program as well as regulatory responsibilities and there I learned about plasma fractionation and how to do column separations. Within 6 months, the blood bank was transferred to the Clinical Center Pathology Department and I was transferred with it. The blood bank was a miniaturization of the one that now exists and had a staff of only about 10. I, as a first-year fellow, was a de facto assistant Chief and the second year fellow was Chief. When it was my turn to become Chief, they realized the weakness of this hierarchy and hired Paul Schmidt as permanent Chief. Paul began to grow the department and to gain its independence from the Pathology Department. In my long tenure in the blood bank, I have had only three bosses, Paul Schmidt, Paul Holland and Harvey Klein. Each was instrumental in advancing my career and each expanded the Department of Transfusion Medicine to its current stature as perhaps the best and most innovative in the world with a current staff of about 150.

As a first-year blood bank fellow, I had to come up with a research project. I had no research mentor and for reasons I cannot now remember, I decided to study whether blood recipients might have transfusion reactions because they harbored an antibody against a serum protein distinct from their own. I had read about polymorphisms in human albumin and haptoglobin, and this gave the study some scientific underpinnings. To test for these immune reactions, I cut circular wells into agar plates by the double immunodiffusion method of Ouchterlony and allowed serum from a multiply transfused patient to diffuse into the agar toward normal donor serum in surrounding wells. An immune reaction would be indicated by a curved precipitin line. Although agar plates continued to pile up, publications did not. One day, Richard Aster, a soon-to-be famous platelet immunologist, told me that he heard an interesting lecture by a geneticist named Baruch Blumberg who was doing experiments very similar to my own. I went to see Blumberg soon thereafter and found him to be interesting, quite chatty and very collegial. We immediately established a collaboration to, so to speak, join wells. Blumberg had already discovered polymorphisms in human beta-lipoproteins and these precipitin lines characteristically stained blue for their lipid content. One day, I observed a precipitin line that did not stain blue, but stained red when counterstained with azocarmine for protein. The antigen detected became known as the Australia antigen and was later shown by Blumberg to be the surface coating of the hepatitis B virus as described in my current Nobel Lecture and in the 1976 Nobel Lecture by Blumberg. This serendipitous finding of the Australia antigen was my first introduction to the hepatitis field and served as my conduit to non-A, non-B hepatitis, now known as hepatitis C. As yet another example of the serendipity of my life, had Richard Aster not heard the Blumberg lecture and told me about it, I probably would not have found and published about the Australia antigen and perhaps not wended my way back to NIH to complete my scientific history. The rest of my long NIH career is chronicled in my accompanying lecture. I can summarize briefly to say that none of what has brought me to this Nobel Prize would have happened had I not been at NIH and its nurturing, supportive, intellectually stimulating and highly collaborative environment. It was, and is, a research Valhalla and I owe everything I have achieved to this tower of hope and innovation.

Full bent on entering clinical practice, after completing my NIH fellowship, I did a second-year medical residency at the University of Washington Hospitals in Seattle and then did a hematology fellowship at Georgetown University under a wonderful mentor and life-long friend, Charlie Rath. Rath taught me as much about life as medicine and both have been invaluable. Charlie died with his mind and humor intact at age 93. I was honored to give his eulogy. At the end of my heme fellowship, I applied for a coveted group practice position in Washington DC. I was not offered the position, ostensibly because they needed a cardiologist, and was quite disheartened. Rath said “Why not stay here at Georgetown, you can always go into practice later” and indeed he doubled my salary from $6,000 to $12,000 a year. It sounded good at the time. This was my introduction to academia, where I seemed to fit well and where I soon lost my interest in entering clinical practice. My career path had changed for the better as the result of failure to be selected. Another yin and yang of my trajectory.

Although, I liked my time in academia, I was becoming overwhelmed by it because I was heavily involved in teaching, had a high case load of hematology consults and private patients and was nominally head of hematology research. I found these three academic hats difficult to manage so that when I got a call from Paul Holland in 1969 to come back to NIH and resume my research on the Australia antigen and transfusion-associated hepatitis, I jumped on it. Hence, that serendipitous precipitin line, a Blumberg lecture that I heard only second-hand, and a failed job opportunity forged the rest of my working life and brought me to this Nobel Prize. Not even my mother could have predicted this and I’m so sad that she and my father were not alive to see me accept this award, albeit by Covid-dictated zoom.

I have been remiss not to write about my immediate family. I met my first wife, Barbara, at NIH. We had a seemingly happy marriage, but after 12 years it dissolved, in part because of the demands of my work and my compulsive response to those demands. After a period of deep remorse, I recovered my equilibrium and as a born-again bachelor I emerged into a phase of professional productivity and social awakening. During the early 80s, my career was expanding and I was being invited to speak at wonderful locations around the world that I never thought I would see. Those were heady times as HCV and Har-V were both coming into full blossom. From that point forward, I measured out my life in Power Point slides. In 1984, I met Diane Dowling and after an interminably long courtship, which will go unexplained, we married in 1995. It has been a wonderful relationship and seems to get better with time. As a psychotherapist, Diane had a lot to work on within her marriage, namely me, and she has made me a better husband, a better parent and a better person. I am very grateful for her love, support and guidance. I had two children with Barbara, Mark and Stacey, of whom I am incredibly proud and who continue to give me joy into old age. Diane brought me two step-daughters, Lydia and Erinn, whom I consider daughters without the step. Wonderful and accomplished ladies. Each of these children married and have brought me 9 grandchildren that now age 11–21. My family cup runneth over.

My essay also runneth over, but I have one more topic to cover. Now, in old age, I measure out my life in losses. It is the curse of a long and healthy life that those closest to you disappear, one by one. First parents, aunts and uncles, then siblings and now first cousins. I have watched near two generations of the Alter clan depart; near 50 persons linked by blood, but no longer able to bleed, lying in scattered cemetery plots in Queens and remembered only sporadically by placing a small stone upon their grave; multiple lifetimes reduced to chemicals and molecules that no longer have cohesive function. And as I age, still in good health, my friends also begin to leave me one by one. I recite or listen to their eulogies, I learn new things about them that I wish I had known before, I console their survivors, but I find no consolation in their loss. I miss these friends deeply and wonder what friendship or what love I might lose next. The siphoning of other lives from my small residual well of being is hard to endure, but I do because this is the inexorable cycle of life. I am consoled by the fact that when my time comes, I can say these were my family and my friends and I was so lucky to have had them enrich my life. My last hope is that if there is a heaven, it will be filled with a limitless supply of pink Spalding balls.

I never had no Nobel dreams

When I grew up in Ridgewood Queens
I never had no Nobel dreams
My goal was to hit the ball between the seams
To perhaps be a hero on one of my teams
To not have mom detect my schemes

High-school was unauspicious
I mixed with the mob, did nothing suspicious
I was small for my age and basically shy
Could have been the model for Catcher in the Rye
I was not voted most likely to succeed
But there was already a hint, my hair would recede
When I graduated high school, I gave no speeches

There was no sign that one day my deeds would exceed that of my teachers
Nothing about me was the fodder for memes And certainly, I never had no Nobel dreams

In my 20’s, it was medical school
Reading textbooks by the reams
Studying cadavers splayed at the seams
From massive texts, I was sucking the nectars
Studying all night and sleeping through lectures
At Rochester Med great teachers abounded
Everything was interesting, my career choices compounded
But of Nobel thoughts
I had naughts

Then came marriage and baby screams
My first house secure in its beams
I was ready to take on whatever life deems
Children growing
My career flowing
Lots of patients, lots of teaching
Deep research seemed beyond my reaching
Nobel aspirations, no one was preaching

Then an aboriginal antigen I had observed in my youth
Was linked to hepatitis B by Blumberg the sleuth
Of hepatitis viruses we were discerning the truth
For me a chance to return to my NIH roots
Non-A, non-B arose from long prospective studies
I tracked this agent along with bright NIH buddies
And with Chiron’s cloning of C, there came the safest of bloodies
With this my career advanced
But Nobel dreams I never chanced

And now my non-Nobel dream has unfolded
With new credentials I’m suddenly embolded
A thousand congratulatory emails my computer uploaded
But for Nobel aspirations, I was not truly molded
I expect any day, Karolinska will have annulled it
And I will be the first Laureate to have his medal ungolded
To have the King of Sweden say, “from Alter we best hold it;
Get the medal back before he has sold it.”

This award has given my life a massive shake-up
My heart and my mind are having a break-up
Strange forces are scrambling my genetic make-up
Though the leaves of my life, age will soon rake-up
I’m happy to be where I am because in life there’s no make-up
From this Nobel dream, I’m afraid to wake up!

© The Nobel Foundation 2024

To cite this section
MLA style: Harvey J. Alter – Biographical. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Sun. 14 Jul 2024. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2020/alter/biographical/>

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