According to the winners of the prestigious Lasker Awards for Medicine and Biology, medicine in the 21st century is more about innovation and more about teamwork than it is about just pushing more things through. One of those ways of doing so is the health of our planet, which both Michael E. Rosbash, PhD, John S. Lilly, Jr., JD, and Carol A. Hall, MD, described as central to the mission of their respective research groups.
In an interview with The New York Times, Michael Rosbash, the esteemed Caltech professor of molecular and cellular biology and an expert in developmental biology, and whose group discovered cholera inoculations to treat malaria in humans, said, “I’m not worried about climate change or bioterrorism, because the ramifications of inaction and inefficiency on this scale are so great that we simply can’t afford not to think about it.”
In particular, Rosbash and his team of Harvard colleagues, including Hall, found that cholera bacteria cause severe diarrhea in humans. Currently, doctors use a drug, chloroquine, to treat cholera. It has a side effect that drives away potential treatments for the diarrhea-causing bacteria, and prevents future vaccines from being developed. This is because the drug makes the already-chloroquine-resistant bacteria more resistant to cholera vaccines.
Rosbash said he sees this as a potentially serious public health problem because the current cholera strains, in developing countries in particular, tend to be resistant to the CDC’s recommended treatments. “I don’t think we’ll eliminate cholera completely … and if it comes back in a different form, that’s the way cholera should be treated,” he told The Times. “And in doing so, we would leave a window open for a future vaccine.”
In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, which runs in the Rosbash lab, such a possible vaccine (which he likened to a “stage IV cancer vaccine”) could have dramatic implications for treating the illness in the future. Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease, and commonly used treatments cannot even slow the progression of symptoms for those afflicted. “The cure-all would require discovering a totally new condition which no one has come up with yet,” he said. “If we don’t invent one of these conditions that no one has come up with, there will be no prospect of getting it to patients in the near future.”
Dr. John Lilly, the long-time director of the Lilly Research Laboratories, developed a way to encourage research efforts by rewarding science with major grants, and urged those involved in medical research to put humanity first, because it could be the only chance to rescue our planet.
“On a personal level, I do think life is short and not many of us have a lot of time left,” Lilly said. “But, [there’s] one thing we can do that will save a lot of time later on. And that is to get better at taking care of our planet.”
Dr. Carol Hall echoed this sentiment, saying, “Wear all kinds of protection.”
The research team came out ahead in their nomination for the Lasker Awards, which are given to individuals and groups that have, in some way, made important contributions to improving human health. The esteemed group, which is comprised of multiple multidisciplinary groups, is led by Lilly, Hall, and Rosbash, but also includes scientists from university, research hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and nonprofit institutes across the country. Lilly described the prize, to The Times, as an honor. “I think our big mistake was not being sufficiently generous,” he said. “We needed to make a couple billion dollars in venture capital to do science.”
Hall, who is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Washington University in St. Louis, and whose work has led to the discovery of the reason why many new mothers have a more rapid loss of muscle mass during delivery, called the prize “a huge honor for me.” Hall told The Times that one of the key reasons she wants to keep her title as a professor, as well as a practicing doctor, was so she can continue to influence others to make scientific advances. “My passion is to put others ahead of me,” she said.
The award announcement was also made public on Thursday.
Read the full story at The New York Times.
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