Dr. Duane Gubler shares research with locals near Calcutta, India, photo not dated | Photo courtesy of Duane Gubler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Dr. Duane Gubler, a Santa Clara native, slipped a gold medal engraved with a crescent moon and five stars over his head in June. The medal symbolized honorary citizenship given to him by Halimah Yacob, president of Singapore, for his monumental contributions to the city-state’s prominence in world infectious disease research.

Dr. Duane Gubler receives honorary citizenship of Singapore alongside his wife, Bobbie Gubler, and Singapore President Halimah Yacob, Singapore, June 9, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Justin Gubler, St. George News

“I was humbled by it,” Gubler said. “It was hard to believe I was worthy of it.”

Finally retired and settled in St. George, Gubler’s path to achieve this award took him and his family across the world and back — literally. 

Following his family’s traditions, Gubler grew up ranching cattle with his brother near Santa Clara, ranging cattle in the Pine Valley Mountains during summer and the southern hills of St. George during the winter. Gubler met his wife, Bobbie, in high school in Santa Clara, and they married in 1958, at 18 years old.

Originally planning on making a living as a cowboy, Gubler found he wasn’t making enough money by ranching alone. He decided to take up college in Cedar City, where he found a mentor that guided him to study medicine. Gubler finished his bachelor’s degree in Logan, Utah, and his master’s degree at the University of Hawaii. He eventually earned his Ph.D. from John Hopkins University, where he studied tropical medicine and disease ecology.

“This was the 1960s,” Gubler said. “By this time, the Surgeon General of the United States and a lot of infectious disease experts actually declared the war on infectious diseases won. We had new antibiotics, new vaccines, new insecticides. But I stuck to my guns, even though I was advised by my professor at Hopkins to change my field and study chronic diseases.”

After graduating from John Hopkins, Gubler, his wife and their two young boys moved to Calcutta, India, at the height of the Cold War. Calcutta was under a Marxist-Mao government during those years, making the Gublers’ lives extremely difficult at times.

“Going to Calcutta in those days was like going back in time 200 years,” Gubler said. “The whole region was chaos. It was a real culture shock for us. About every six months, we would leave Calcutta and go out to Bangkok or Singapore to get back into some semblance of civilization.”

18-year-old Duane Gubler rides a horse on his family ranch, Pine Valley, Utah, photo not dated | Photo courtesy of Duane Gubler, St. George News

The Gubler family always had at least a week’s supply of food and water on-hand for the regular government strikes on the city that would shut down public electricity.

On one occasion, Gubler said, he and his wife attended a marriage ceremony of a U.S. Marine man and a local young woman, and over 100,000 local men surrounded the city block in anger and held the congregation captive for six hours.

Gubler’s primary focus of study in Calcutta was a disease called elephantiasis, usually caused by a blood parasite that passed via mosquito, causing lymph in human bodies to build up to enormous, painful proportions. He worked in labs, clinical studies and in the field in numerous impoverished communities, conducting research and providing aid.

“The paper I wrote from those studies was actually used at Harvard for many years as a case study for students studying tropical diseases, epidemiology,” Gubler said. “That’s really what got me started in my career.”

While in Calcutta, Bobbie Gubler joined a women’s organization where she met and worked alongside Mother Teresa to package medicine for Indian citizens in need.

The Gubler family moved back to Hawaii in 1971 and helped build the medical school on Oahu. Dengue fever was reintroduced into the Pacific region during that time, re-emerging since its potency in World War Two. Gubler was first in line to combat dengue, switching specialties from parasitology to virology, although he was very familiar already with pathogens spread by mosquitoes.

“I spent the better part of the first-half of the 70s traveling all of the South Pacific and Western Pacific islands, studying the epidemic,” he said. “We developed new methods in Hawaii to isolate the dengue virus from human material. That took me to Indonesia, where dengue was an emerging problem, killing a lot of children. I wanted to put the new methods to work in Indonesia.”

Yet again, the Gublers moved their family to a new land, Indonesia, where they spent the following five years. After that, the family moved to Illinois, Puerto Rico, Colorado and Hawaii, following Gubler’s career building university programs and working with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, known as the CDC. 

Younger Duane Gubler studies a parasite under a microscope, photo not dated | Photo courtesy of Duane Gubler, St. George News

Gubler still traveled to Asia frequently, consulting colleagues in Indonesia and surrounding countries. In 2000, Singapore began inviting top-tier medical universities to the country to help create a biotechnology and biomedical research facility in Singapore.

“Hopkins went in there, and they didn’t last long,” Gubler said. “Oxford went in. They didn’t last long. But Duke University was contracted to build a new medical school that would train physician scientists.”

Duke reached out to Gubler, and after much consideration, he and his wife left their home in Hawaii and moved to Singapore to build a world-leading medical facility in 2007. Gubler spear-headed the Emerging Infectious Disease Program at Duke’s medical school in Singapore, which was instrumental in studying and developing a vaccine in COVID-19, Gubler said.

Gubler expressed his deep love and admiration for Singapore.

“Singapore today is not only a first-world country but one of the richest countries in the world,” he said. “It’s probably the most solid economically (country) in the world, and probably the most beautiful city you’ll ever go to. It’s the safest, technologically advanced city in the world — an amazing place.”

A prolific academic writer and researcher, Gubler has over 400 peer-reviewed scientific articles published, as well as three books published about dengue. Among his awards, Gubler received an honorary doctorate from Southern Utah University, a Rotary International Service Above Self award and recognition for aiding in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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How a Santa Clara rancher became a honorary citizen of Singapore – St George News

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