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Vol. LXIV, No. 20
September 28, 2012
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NIH Hosts ‘Celebration of Science’ at Natcher

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NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (r) talks about work on an HIV vaccine with Dr. Peter Kwong of the VRC at the Saturday event.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (r) talks about work on an HIV vaccine with Dr. Peter Kwong of the VRC at the Saturday event.

On Sept. 8, NIH hosted a “Celebration of Science,” organized in Washington, D.C., by the Milken Institute and FasterCures. The Saturday session at Natcher Conference Center featured frank talk on a difficult budget situation by members of Congress, a series of scientific presentations that paired investigators with appreciative patients, panel discussions hosted by event benefactor Michael Milken, and NIH director Dr. Francis Collins both delivering remarks in Kirschstein Auditorium then hosting live remote video broadcasts from three cutting-edge NIH labs.

The audience included NIH stakeholders from academia, industry and patient advocacy groups from around the U.S. Collins asked them to imagine a near-horizon of medical advances including steps toward a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, targeted therapy for tumors, a one-time universal influenza vaccine, solutions to the problems of obesity and diabetes and the ability to transform skin cells into liver and kidney cells and other cell lines that could be used to test drug safety.

Continued...

“We have a proud past,” Collins said, “but a more exciting future…our job is far from over. There are still too many diseases that lack cures, and too much suffering.”

John O’Hurley of TV’s Dancing Dr. Otis Brawley greets FIC director Dr. Roger Glass NIH deputy director for extramural research Dr. Sally Rockey joins Collins onstage at the Kennedy Center during a Saturday evening event.
From l: John O’Hurley of TV’s Dancing with the Stars performs “Waltz of the NIH” for Collins and the CC’s Dr. Diane Damiano. Former NCI researcher Dr. Otis Brawley (l) greets FIC director Dr. Roger Glass outside Kirschstein Auditorium. NIH deputy director for extramural research Dr. Sally Rockey joins Collins onstage at the Kennedy Center during a Saturday evening event.

The day’s first panel featured Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Collins and Milken, who said, “What has occurred on this campus has had a greater effect on the world than any other campus or company in the world…People need to see the beam of light that is shining throughout the world from this location.”

He said as much as 50 percent of the world’s economic growth in the past 2 centuries could be traced to medical research. “It’s a major source of job creation.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) gives a lunch-time address in a tent behind Natcher Bldg.

Cantor pledged to figure out a means of bipartisan cooperation “to take us forward…to maintain our pre-eminence in science…I stand with Steny to say this institution and its pursuit of scientific discovery is a priority for us.” He also divulged that his father suffers from a neurological condition that is currently uncurable: “If I could save my father, I would.”

But Cantor warned that budget sequestration—which would reduce NIH’s budget by some $2.4 billion—is a possibility if Congress and the President can’t agree on a way to resolve the nation’s debt problem by the end of 2012.

Against a backdrop of potentially dire budgetary outcomes were a series of powerful, emotional vignettes including researchers and patients who demonstrated what can happen when medicine rises to the occasion and heals individuals. These included:

  • Dawn Averitt Bridge, who while a college sophomore at age 20 was raped and acquired HIV that later progressed to full-blown AIDS. Advances in AIDS therapies, however, resulted not only in her survival, but also the realization of a lifelong dream: she is the mother of two non-HIV-infected children, her “miracle babies.”


  • Timothy Ray Brown, the so-called “Berlin patient,” who was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 but later became the first person cured of the infection, due to a bone marrow transplant for leukemia that included a gene that rendered him AIDS-free. “I am dedicating my life, my blood, my body and my mind to a cure [for HIV],” he said. “And I will not let you down.”


  • The Beery family of California, whose children Alexis and Noah benefitted dramatically from whole-genome sequencing that correctly identified the cause of a series of long-term and debilitating symptoms. When they walked out—whole and handsome—on the Natcher stage with Dr. Richard Gibbs, a genome scientist from Baylor University who helped the family, the room erupted in a standing ovation.

    Collins’ first stop on his campus tour was the Vaccine Research Center laboratory of Dr. Peter Kwong, who described the challenges in structural biology to creating a broadly neutralizing AIDS antibody.

    The Natcher audience was treated to two other brief interviews beamed back to the hall by Collins, who visited Dr. Daniel Reich of NINDS in the Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center at the Clinical Center and Dr. Diane Damiano of the CC’s rehabilitation medicine department. She showed off the hospital’s state-of-the-art biomechanics lab with the help of Dancing with the Stars celebrity John O’Hurley, who demonstrated what he called “the Waltz of the NIH.”
The day’s first panel included (from l) Collins, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Milken.

The day’s first panel included (from l) Collins, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Milken.

    The day abounded in powerful moments.

  • Writer Judy Bachrach describing the wrenching, slow-motion loss of her formerly vibrant and talented mother to Alzheimer’s disease: “She’s no longer my mother,” Bachrach declared, “but I am still her daughter and I will take care of her until the day she dies.”


  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who in a lunch-time address described in detail the budget pain of sequestration. “It will have a real cost to our country and to scientific discovery,” he warned. “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to replace what is clearly a really dumb way to reduce our national deficit.” Sequestration would mean a 7.8 percent cut for FY 2013 from the non-defense discretionary portion of the federal budget (from which NIH is funded). He added that the current House budget is even more damaging than sequestration. According to Van Hollen, over 10 years, the House budget trims an additional 13 percent below the non-defense discretionary funding levels that would result if the full sequester were to take effect.


  • Event benefactor Michael Milken of the Milken Institute (second from l) is joined by Collins and past NIH directors Dr. Harold Varmus (l), who is currently NCI director, and Dr. Elias Zerhouni (r), who is now with Sanofi.
    Event benefactor Michael Milken of the Milken Institute (second from l) is joined by Collins and past NIH directors Dr. Harold Varmus (l), who is currently NCI director, and Dr. Elias Zerhouni (r), who is now with Sanofi.
  • Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who passionately defended the value of NIH by enumerating such successes as dramatic reductions in mortality from stroke and heart disease, increases in lifespan during the past century and the fact that “cancer is no longer a death sentence…We have found answers for polio and for HIV/AIDS and we can do the same with Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “I hope we can increase the NIH budget…We can never be satisfied with a freeze or the status quo…We’re not going to tolerate a cut.”


  • Former NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni reporting that nations around the world are anxious not only to duplicate NIH, but also to reap its economic bounty. He said that during his 6 years as NIH director, he counted some 4,500 companies in some way dependent on NIH.


  • High-tech entrepreneur Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, who credits NIH seed money with helping him launch, from 1993 to the present, a series of companies dedicated to high-throughput genome sequencing, summing up NIH’s value: “NIH can invest before an idea is even probable…If you want a bright future, think about doubling the research budget. That’s what people need to know…That’s how we create the wealth of a nation.”


  • Army Capt. (Ret.) Jonathan Pruden, badly wounded in Iraq in 2003, lost his right leg and endured some 20 operations. But due to successful treatment of “Iraqibacter” (Acinetobacter baumannii) acquired during war, his remaining foot was spared. He strode onstage looking hale and hearty.
Pitt’s Dr. Sharon Hillie led a panel on AIDS research advances, assisted by Dawn Averitt Bridge (c) and Timothy Ray Brown. Drs. Richard Gibbs of Baylor (l) and Kafui Dzirasa (r) of Duke join the Beery family onstage at Natcher Sen. Benjamin Cardin

From l: Pitt’s Dr. Sharon Hillier (l) led a panel on AIDS research advances, assisted by Dawn Averitt Bridge (c) and Timothy Ray Brown. Drs. Richard Gibbs of Baylor (l) and Kafui Dzirasa (r) of Duke join the Beery family onstage at Natcher. And Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) defends NIH’s research and economic impact at a lunch session.

Photos:  Ernie Branson, Bill Branson, FasterCures

“I hope you’ve been inspired and sensed the excitement, optimism and hope that infuses this work,” concluded Collins as the afternoon session wrapped up. “Let’s not waste this moment…We will turn today’s dreams into tomorrow’s cures.”

To watch the morning session of the event, visit http://videocast.nih.gov/launch.asp?17546. The afternoon session is available at http://videocast.nih.gov/launch.asp?17547.


Gallery

Collins poses with (from l) former NCI director Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach and David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries.
Dr. Kary Mullis Nobel laureate

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