Dr. Marshall Bloom, Associate Director for Science Management at Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) and Chief of the Biology of Vector-Borne Viruses Section was recently named the 2020 inductee into the Montana BioScience Hall of Fame.
Montanan’s have played a major role in the development of the biological sciences by making very significant contributions to the field over the decades. The Montana BioScience Alliance serves as a hub for Montana’s biotechnology companies, entrepreneurs, laboratories, hospitals, clinics, and universities to commercialize, grow, and sustain globally competitive bioscience companies — ultimately to create high-quality jobs and economic opportunity in Montana. The BioScience Hall of Fame was established in 2007 “to honor the men and women who have made a difference in the lives of people in our state, our nation and globally.”
“Many world-class scientists, researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs have contributed to the growth of the bioscience industry in Montana,” MBA Executive Director Sharon Peterson said in announcing the selection of Dr. Bloom. “Each year we choose one person to enter into our Hall of Fame. We are thrilled to honor Dr. Bloom this year and to recognize his contributions to Rocky Mountain Laboratories and Montana.”
Dr. Bloom, himself, said that he was “totally flabbergasted and completely surprised” when he first got the call informing him about the honor. He said it was difficult for him to picture himself amongst “such a heady group.”
He mentioned past honoree Irv Weisman who was born and raised in Great Falls and, in 1988, became the first scientist to identify and isolate stem cells in any species, opening a whole new area of scientific research.
Then there is Dr. Leroy Hood, who grew up in Shelby, whose research focused on the study of molecular immunology, biotechnology, and genomics and in developing several instruments, which constitute the technological foundation for modern molecular biology and genomics. He has applied these technologies to diverse fields including immunology, neurobiology, cancer biology, molecular evolution and systems medicine.
Although born in Switzerland, Dr. Edgar Ribi made history in Montana when he founded Ribi ImmunoChem Research in 1981, which became a leading biochemical research company.
He eventually headed the biophysics section and became Acting Chief at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases Lab-Hamilton’s Rocky Mountain Labs (RML).
One of Bloom’s personal heroes, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, was also inducted into the MBA Hall of Fame. Dr. Hilleman created eight of the 14 most commonly used vaccines, including those for mumps, measles, chicken pox, pneumonia, meningitis, rubella and many other infectious diseases. His measles vaccine alone is estimated to prevent 1 million deaths worldwide every year. In addition to his creation of nearly 40 vaccines, Dr. Hilleman discovered several viruses and discovered the genetic changes that occur when the influenza virus mutates, known as shift and drift.
“It is an inestimable honor to be selected for this,” said Bloom.
An accomplishment he is most proud of, he said, is his work in overseeing the development of NIH’s first biosafety level-four research facility, which was constructed on the RML campus. Since the facility opened in 2008, the program’s scientists have helped develop an Ebola virus vaccine and are making crucial contributions to COVID-19 treatment and vaccine developments.
“Dr. Bloom is playing a significant role in RML’s work to better understand COVID-19 and discover ways to stop the spread of the disease,” said Peterson from MBA. “As soon as it became clear in early 2020 that COVID-19 could have a deadly impact in the U.S. and around the world, Dr. Bloom became one of the leaders at RML to quickly focus research on fighting the disease. In addition, he generously shared insights and expertise with public health officials at the local and state levels. We are all very grateful to Dr. Bloom and the RML scientists and researchers for their work.”
Bloom is also proud of the fact that he could put his professional skills and knowledge to work for Montanans outside the lab. In the Bitterroot he is better known by his nickname “Dr. Trout.” When he’s not working at RML, Dr. Bloom dedicates many hours to trout conservation and has served as the “voice” of the Bitterroot Chapter of Trout Unlimited for years.
So when whirling disease attacked Montana’s wild trout population in the 1990s, Dr. Trout was the logical choice to head a Governor’s task force charged with combating the problem. Through research, management, education – and some help from Mother Nature – the disease ran its course and impacts have lessened on Montana streams. Dr. Bloom says the lessons he learned from navigating the varied interests of stakeholders during that process have served him well as he fights infectious diseases in people.
Bloom characterized his work on the Governor’s Task Force as being “very satisfying.” He said as trout populations plummeted due to the disease some people began to strongly advocate for stocking Montana’s streams and rivers to keep the numbers up. Task Force members along with Montana FWP and Trout Unlimited advocated strongly for just giving the native trout a chance to deal with it and recover on their own. He said the native fish populations have been able to recover in many of the infected areas already.
“I think we were able to keep the state from making some big mistakes,” said Bloom. He said his work in combatting emergent infectious diseases amongst people and amongst fish has been very satisfying personally.