Tribute to Art Babson
Babson Diagnostics, Inc. is named in honor of Dr. Arthur L. Babson (1927-2016), a prominent scientist and entrepreneur who played a key role in the history of the diagnostics industry.
In the clinical laboratory of the 1950’s, quality control was unheard of, chemists prepared their own reagents, and automated instruments were largely a dream. During the second half of the 20th century, Art’s inventions played a central role in the industrialization and standardization of diagnostic methods that paved the way for today's highly automated and rigorous clinical laboratories. Laboratories worldwide still depend on many of Art’s technologies to diagnose disease every day.
Art worked at Warner-Lambert from 1954-1980, where he was considered the father of the company’s General Diagnostics Division. In 1956, he developed Versatol, the first commercial normal human serum control, which allowed labs to evaluate diagnostic test performance day-to-day, improving result quality and repeatability. Versatol became the dominant product in the nascent market for quality control materials, and the use of standardized controls became a cornerstone of modern laboratory medicine.
Art’s most significant contribution to the science of clinical chemistry was his invention of biochemical procedures for the measurement of serum enzymes. Under his leadership, Warner-Lambert commercialized ten different reagent kits that enabled everyday laboratories to perform enzyme analyses. He developed assays for alkaline phosphatase, acid phosphatase, aspartate aminotransferase, lactate dehydrogenase, and amylase. These tests enabled the routine detection of damage to organs including the liver, pancreas, heart, bone, and prostate. Art received AACC's Gerulat Award in 1975, NJ Inventor of the Year in 1997, and AACC's Van Slyke Award in 1998 for his contributions to the field of clinical chemistry.
Art founded Babson Technologies in 1987 based on his invention of an axial centrifugation method that would enable immunoassays to be run with high throughput and high sensitivity. His fundamental breakthrough became the core of IMMULITE technology, which is still sold and used in thousands of labs to this day. Babson Technologies became Cirrus Diagnostics and was acquired by Diagnostic Products Corporation. IMMULITE became known for having the broadest menu of tests on the market and the highest customer satisfaction due to extraordinary reliability and service. IMMULITE accounted for more than 90% of DPC’s business when it was acquired by Siemens for $1.86 billion in 2006. Art received the Siemens Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 and retired in 2014 at the age of 87.
I met Art in 1988 when he hired my father as his third employee. My first professional software development experience came in 1990 and 1991 when I worked for Art as a high school summer intern. Art became a dear family friend who substantially influenced my love of science.
Art was unique in that he always reduced his ideas to practice. Rather than stopping at the idea stage, Art would immediately build models from wood, cardboard, and tape to evaluate whether each idea worked. By doing so, we were able to learn what worked, what didn’t, and why. Rapidly learning and iterating, Art was able to outpace other inventors of his day with his creativity, optimism, and perseverence.
Art had a deep love for science and experimentation, and he earned a famous reputation for attention to detail in scientific data. He fought vigorously against confirmation bias, always ensuring that we listened to data to understand what it had to say. In his own words:
“I can’t imagine any intellectual endeavor more stimulating or satisfying than doing science. A lot of people would find experimental science frustrating, as most of the experiments one does don’t come out right, i.e., the way we expect them. Of course, if we knew in advance the results of an experiment it would be pointless to do the experiment at all. Someone once said that when you do an experiment you are asking a question of Nature and Nature always gives you the right answer.”
– Art Babson, 1995
Thank you Art, for your friendship, your mentorship, and for your vast contributions to the diagnostics industry.
Eric Olson, 2017