|NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (above, l) performed recently to raise science’s profile. He shared the stage with (above, r) Dr. Rudy Tanzi of Harvard (l) and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry.
NIH’ers can now say, “My boss is a rock star.” That’s because NIH director Dr. Francis Collins jammed with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry for the Rock Stars of Science Briefing and Tribute at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on Sept. 24. The event was part of a national campaign to honor scientists, encourage science as a career choice and call for further research funding.
Politicians, scientists and rock stars gathered for a day of panel discussions, videos and live musical performances. A common mission among the groups is to accelerate scientific research so that cures can be found for life-threatening diseases like HIV/AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
While many people can name a living rock star, few can name a living scientist, said ABC News anchor Terry Moran, who emceed the event. This is a fact event sponsors and participants hope to change. The Rock Stars of Science campaign publicizes photographs and videos of rock stars sharing the spotlight with scientists, including Collins and NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Musicians and scientists have a lot in common, including passion and creativity. Guitarist Perry and scientists Dale Schenk (Elan Corp.) and Dr. Rudy Tanzi (Harvard University) agreed. Perry said he always wanted to be a marine biologist but, owing to an unaddressed learning disability, he didn’t do well in school. Music became his outlet for creativity, but he never gave up on his dream. He and his family are now active scuba divers and coral-reef-cleanup volunteers. Schenk compared Western music’s 12 half steps with science’s tools. The tools help get the work done, but it’s creativity that allows for improvisation in music and breakthroughs in science, he said.
Several panel discussions focused on Alzheimer’s disease. In 2009, about 5.3 million people in the United States are living with the disease. By 2050, if a cure isn’t found, there will be nearly a million new cases annually, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
|NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, also a Rock Star of Science, speaks in front of artwork featuring Perry (c) and Collins (r).
Panelists called for a national goal to stop Alzheimer’s by the year 2020. They stressed the need for early diagnosis and intervention and sustained funding for research and patient care. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) spoke about the “health care tsunami” that will hit baby boomers in the years to come. “Health care reform needs CPR: coverage, prevention and research,” he said. Discussions touched on the 2009 Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act, which funds research, helps caregivers and enhances public education about prevention.
Collins told a moving story about a cancer survivor who participated in a clinical trial and eventually stopped writing in her “death journal.” The drug under trial was perfectly targeted to her cancer cells and her disease had gone into remission. The story underlines the need for speeding up translational science that can lead to successful therapeutics. Collins also addressed the need for sustained funding over time.
Fauci spoke about the search for an effective HIV/AIDS vaccine and the announcement earlier that morning of some promising results from a trial in Thailand. Although we don’t yet have an effective vaccine, the Thai study brought us one step closer, he said.
At one point, the audience was asked who had been personally touched by cancer—themselves, friends or family members. Most hands went up. A panel discussion about cancer research and the Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) initiative followed. Panelists included Australian pop star, actress and cancer survivor Delta Goodrem, Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Marcus, scientist Laura Shawver and filmmaker Laura Ziskin. SU2C began in 2007 to accelerate research, find cures for all cancer types and, ultimately, save lives. The initiative encourages the best scientists to work together and collaborates with the entertainment industry to build public awareness and support.
During a highly anticipated portion of the program, Collins shared the stage with Perry and Tanzi, who plays harmonica. The trio received a standing ovation when Collins led the vocals on a Bob Dylan tune, The Times They Are A-Changin’. Goodrem sang a song a cappella to close the program.
Geoffrey Beene Gives Back, Research!America, Wyeth, Elan and the Alzheimer’s Association hosted the event, in cooperation with the congressional biomedical research caucus and the congressional task force on Alzheimer’s disease.
The Rock Stars of Science campaign was launched in the June 2009 issue of GQ Magazine. For a complete lineup of stars and scientists, photographs, videos and interviews, visit http://www.rockstarsofscience.org/.