NBA legend Magic Johnson, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and NIH Director Francis Collins among participants at conference, held at George Washington and the National Institutes of Health.
That was the rallying cry over the weekend for more than 1,200 current and former members of Congress, major philanthropists, Nobel laureates and some of the world’s leading scientists and clinicians at A Celebration of Science, a conference on scientific discovery co-hosted by George Washington and the National Institutes of Health.
More than 150 speakers, including NBA legend and philanthropist Earvin “Magic” Johnson, NIH Director Francis Collins, Nobel Laureate and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, GW President Steven Knapp and Lynn Goldman, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services, convened in Foggy Bottom and Bethesda, Md., to discuss the latest in scientific research and the future of the biosciences.
The conference was sponsored by “action tank” FasterCures, founded by philanthropist Michael Milken, chairman of the nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank Milken Institute, who recently penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal on the critical importance of investing in the biosciences.
Dr. Knapp delivered welcoming remarks at the conference’s opening panel Friday in Jack Morton Auditorium, and moderated a panel on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and job prospects for young investigators Sunday in the Marvin Center.
David Dolling, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science; Ali Eskandarian, dean of the College of Professional Studies; Michael Feuer, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development; Jean Johnson, dean of the School of Nursing; and W. Russell Ramsey, B.B.A. ’81, chairman of the GW Board of Trustees, were among the attendees at Sunday’s panel.
In his welcoming remarks, Dr. Knapp noted that the work of the Milken Institute has led to significant increases in funding for the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute and the National Science Foundation.
“Those investments have led to extraordinary advances in medicine and technology, including the sequencing of the human genome and the development of new therapies for cancer and other life-threatening diseases,” said Dr. Knapp. “After the remarkable success of the National Cancer Summit and the March on Washington that Mike Milken conceived and led, one can only imagine the benefits that will flow from this weekend’s conference.”
Calling the participants “visionaries who will inspire and challenge us,” Dr. Knapp noted George Washington University’s progress in supporting and advancing scientific research.
“We’ve embarked on a course of transformation that will move our faculty to the forefront of scientific research and education,” he said. “Just blocks from here, we’re constructing a half-million-square-foot Science and Engineering Hall, which will house our scientists and engineers in space designed to foster the kind of collaborative work that meaningful research increasingly entails. At the same time, we’re building on our long tradition of engaging national and international policy leaders in the translation of discovery into political and practical reality.”
Following Dr. Knapp’s remarks was a panel on the progress against HIV/AIDS featuring Mr. Johnson and Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and moderated by Greg Simon, member of the FasterCures board of directors.
Dr. Fauci outlined the basic research over the years that has helped combat HIV/AIDS, including the discovery of reverse transcriptase—which transcribes single-stranded RNA into DNA and allowed scientists to recognize the HIV virus by lab test--and development of methodologies to grow T cells in culture into Interleukin 2, proteins that regulate white blood cells responsible for immunity.
“It was because of that kind of work—when we were faced with this extraordinary unexpected catastrophe from a global health standpoint—we were able to jump in very rapidly, identify the virus and then make the connections of the targets on the virus by methodologies that antedated, from a basic science standpoint, HIV,” said Dr. Fauci. “And it was that that led to the ultimate diagnosis and treatment, which transformed, as we know, something that was essentially a death sentence to something that now is probably one of the greatest success stories in biomedical research.”
Mr. Johnson discussed his experience living with HIV and his work to raise awareness about the disease, especially in minority communities. When he was first diagnosed almost 21 years ago, Mr. Johnson took 15 pills a day. Now, he is down to one daily pill.
“It’s really amazing how far drugs have come and how easy it is to take them today, versus 20 years ago,” he said. “I owe a lot of applause and a lot of gratitude to the scientists and doctors who have really improved the drugs.”
In minority communities especially, raising awareness about treatments and encouraging those infected to stay on treatments are major challenges, said Dr. Fauci and Mr. Johnson.
“Globally, it’s a challenge to get everyone involved—nations, communities, individual countries—to implement those prevention and treatment modalities,” said Dr. Fauci.
“The same drugs that are available to me are the same that are available to everybody,” added Mr. Johnson. “We have to teach them that if they can’t afford their medications, there are different agencies and foundations that can help.”
Mr. Johnson lauded George Washington for co-hosting the event, stating that more of these forums are needed to encourage young people to get involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“Today is great,” he said. “We’re here at GW and got the support of the president and board on down, so let’s keep making it cool.”
Other panels Friday focused on global health, the FDA and linking prevention, care and cures.
Dr. Collins opened Saturday’s sessions at NIH, featuring remarks from GW alumnus and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Freda Lewis-Hall, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Pfizer, Inc. The day concluded with an evening of speeches and performances at the Kennedy Center hosted by entertainers Whoopi Goldberg and John O’Hurley, with appearances by singer Stevie Nicks, and GW alumnus Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The conference concluded on Sunday with a day of panels at the Marvin Center, featuring Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, Dr. Chu and Nobel Laureate James Watson.