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

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Bert Geoffrey Achong was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad on December 6th 1928. He was an outstanding student, who copped the national Jerningham Gold Medal for top performance in the Higher School Certificate Examinations in 1946. He also won the Science Scholarship from his alma mater, St. Mary’s College.

He studied medicine at the University College in Dublin, Ireland and then trained as a clinical pathologist at Lambeth Hospital in London, England. He conducted electron microscopy work with Dr. Yvonne Barr and Sir Anthony Epstein, a leading researcher in viruses associated with cancer at the Bland Sutton Institute, Middlesex Hospital.

The team studied in vitro cultivation of Burkitt’s lymphoma (an African childhood tumour) and Achong’s electron micrographs were critical in pinpointing particles of a herpes virus family. This virus then became known as the Epstein-Barr Virus or EBV. Achong’s findings spearheaded further work in many research areas.

Apart from this major breakthrough, Dr. Achong also discovered the “Foamy Virus.” This virus belongs to the family of retroviruses (viruses which contain RNA as the hereditary material in place of the more common DNA) and was the first example of this type of infection in man.

Dr. Achong wrote several scientific articles and books on his research and discoveries. Key among these was a book co-edited with Sir Anthony Epstein, “The Epstein-Barr Virus”. He lectured at the Department of Pathology at the University of Bristol in England where he had the gift of inspiring students.

He was bestowed with the Doctorate in Science and the Doctorate in Medicine by the National University of Ireland, and was also a Foundation Fellow of the Pathology Faculty of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and Fellow of the Royal College of Pathology, England.

For his contributions to science, Dr. Achong will forever be recognised as one of our region’s gifted sons. He passed away at the age of 67 on November 20th 1996.