Bert Achong (6th Dec 1928- 20th Nov 1996)

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Born on December 6th, 1928 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Bert Achong was a brilliant student who won both the St. Mary’s College Science Scholarship and the national Jerningham Gold Medal for top performance in the 1947 Higher School Certificate Examinations. He went on to study medicine at University College Dublin, Ireland (now also known as the National University of Ireland), receiving a Bachelor of Medicine, Surgery and the Art of Obstetrics (MB BCh BAO) with honours in 1953. After graduating, he trained as a clinical pathologist at Lambeth Hospital in London, England.

Achong’s training in electron microscopy was put to good use when he conducted research on viruses associated with human cancers, with Sir Anthony Epstein and Dr Yvonne Barr at the Bland Sutton Institute at Middlesex Hospital in England. There, they discovered a previously unknown virus of the herpes family that caused Burkitt’s lymphoma – a tumour found in children in central Africa. After the team published their findings in 1964, this virus, which also causes a rare form of nasal cancer, became known as the Epstein-Barr virus.

Dr Achong also discovered the first case in which a human was infected by a “foamy virus” – a virus related to HIV that usually affects chimpanzees. He wrote several scientific articles and books on his research and discoveries, including a book co-edited with Sir Anthony Epstein entitled The Epstein-Barr Virus. Achong went on to spend many years at the Department of Pathology at the University of Bristol in England, where he gained a reputation as a gifted, dynamic lecturer who motivated his students to succeed.

In 1965, he received a Doctor in Medicine (MD) from the National University of Ireland and, in 1983, he was awarded a Doctor of Science (DSc) degree for his contribution to medical research. Dr Achong was also a Foundation Fellow of the Pathology Faculty of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

Dr Bert Geoffrey Achong passed away on November 20th, 1996.