Science as adventure, a key in the work of Milstein, the last Argentine to win a Nobel Prize

The idea came from his mother, a teacher, who watched with some concern as the second of her three sons revealed a concern that sometimes turned him into a troublesome rebel: at age 13, César Milstein came across a scientific book for the first time, although posed as adventurous.

The story of “The Microbe Hunters” by Paul de Kruif, which abounds in the life of Antony van Leeuwenhoek, the man who invented the microscope and thus opened the doors to the study of the universe of microorganisms, entered like lightning. the psyche of that restless pre-adolescent from Bahía Blanca.

The biographies of other great biologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, made the middle son of the Russian immigrant Lázaro Milstein think that with discipline and method he could also become an advanced scientist, although his city was far from the first world of investigations.

“It was like reading the adventures of Tarzan, but much more fun”, when he was an eminence of world science, he told about the impact of that popular book, which impressed him much more than those of Jules Verne or Emilio Salgari, which he used to borrow during his visits to the Bernardino Rivadavia Public Library, in his hometown.

They launch a free space to promote new technologies in Bahia

Almost nine decades after receiving a gift from his mother, when he was a star in the Molecular Biology Laboratory of the prestigious English University of Cambridge, Milstein won the 1984 Nobel Prize in Medicine, shared with his colleagues George Köhler and Niels Jerne, for his works on immunology and monoclonal antibodies.

The fifth and last Argentine to receive a Nobel, succeeding Carlos Saavedra, Bernardo Houssay, Luis Leloir and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, had carried out a series of revealing investigations about the process by which blood produces antibodies (that is, the proteins in charge of fighting the presence of foreign bodies or antigens).

By fusing B lymphocytes, which have a limited half-life in the production of antibodies, with tumor cells, the award-winning research achieved a permanent-acting hybrid, which was a major advance in modern immunology, which would be key to diagnosis and treatment of a large number of diseases.

“Science is only going to fulfill its promises when the benefits are shared equitably by the world’s truly poor,” Milstein wrote in 2000, two years before his death at age 74, in a reasoning that explains why he did not patent his discovery. , privatizing it in exchange for money, under the certainty that it should remain as “intellectual property of humanity.”

The revolutionary discovery of César Milstein

When Milstein, who believed that “the university should teach learning”, won the award, and with it 190 thousand dollars shared, Cambridge had been one of the most notorious sources of international scientific knowledge for almost 800 years and was proud to have formed the a whopping eighty Nobel laureates.

“The engine of science is curiosity with the constant questions: And what is that like? What does it consist of? How does it work? ”He believed. “And the most fascinating thing is that each answer brings with it new questions. In this, we scientists bring advantages to explorers: when we believe we have reached the desired goal, we realize that the most interesting thing is that we have raised new problems to explore ”.

Although he was a British citizen when he was awarded the Nobel, the punctilious and disciplined scientist always considered himself a child of Argentine public education: he attended primary and secondary school in Bahía Blanca, obtained a degree in Chemistry at the Faculty of Exact Sciences and Naturales from the University of Buenos Aires and later obtained a doctorate with research on enzymes.

Now, when celebrating the 37th anniversary of the award of his Nobel, which came to him while he was working on the routine of his laboratory, for which he did not even answer the phone call from Stockholm that informed him of the award, the nation state has just honor him with a special day at Tecnópolis.

César Milstein: a Nobel Prize winner looking for his own space in the city

The exhibition in the micro stadium of the film “Un fueguito, la historia de César Milstein”, from 2010 and directed by his great-niece Ana Fraile, accompanied by a concert by the Camerata Bariloche, under the baton of her brother, Martín Fraile , were devised to remember that science and art are family, that they cross their fields mutually enhancing each other.

Last February, with a decree published in the Official Gazette, the National Government declared this problematic 2021 as “The year of tribute to Milstein”, whose work and concept of medicine seem more than updated due to the role that the Public Health System , of which he was a great defender, has had during the Era of Coronavirus.

“Dr. Milstein maintained a deep commitment to science and promoted universal access and availability of knowledge for the benefit of society as a whole, renouncing personal economic benefits and rewards,” stated the decree signed by President Alberto Fernández.

2021 also marked the 60th anniversary of Milstein’s return to Argentina, after having been appointed Head of the Department of Molecular Biology of the Carlos Malbrán National Institute of Microbiology, while he was on a Cambridge scholarship, completing a postdoctoral research, under the direction of the biochemist molecular Frederick Sanger, winner of two Nobel.

“The illustrious visitors of Bahia” meet in the networks of the Historical Museum

In the performance of this new responsibility, in addition to dedicating himself to scientific work, and taking into account a series of recurring budget problems, this humble and located genius, who loved carpentry, dedicated himself to designing and building with his hands the necessary furniture to carry out the different practices, in addition to repairing those that were damaged.

But he was only in office for a year, since he decided, with various sadnesses, to return to England after the military coup that overthrew the constitutional government of Arturo Frondizi and the Malbrán intervened, which meant the beginning of his definitive settlement abroad. , in an episode that highlights the long history of “brain leaks” that science has suffered in Argentina

Although he was very measured in his appraisals, a series of ideological persecutions, which preluded the famous Night of the Long Canes during the military government of Juan Carlos Onganía, had ended up convincing him that he could only carry out his complex work in peace in an environment that It will guarantee stability, far from the dark ages.

Milstein, who had been an anarchist as a young man but considered himself a humanist scientist as an adult, chose the title of “Curiosity as a source of wealth” when giving his last lecture at the Faculty of Exact Sciences in 1999, when history already showed that that A book that his teacher mother gave him in 1940 changed not only the destiny of an intelligent child, but that of world medicine. (Carlos Polimeni – NA)

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Science as adventure, a key in the work of Milstein, the last Argentine to win a Nobel Prize

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