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Dr. Lee Hartwell received the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology / Medicine for his discovery of protein molecules that control the division of cells. He was the President and Director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington before moving to Arizona State University’s Center for Sustainable Health.
Dr. Hartwell is also adjunct faculty at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. He spoke to the delegates at Bioquest from his office in the US, over Amrita’s e-learning platform A-View. Given below are excerpts from his address.
I would like to address the young people in the audience. I know that many of you may have come to this meeting wondering, “How can I become a successful scientist? How can I prepare myself to make a contribution in this world?”
These questions are interesting to me also.
Believe it or not, I am still trying to be a successful scientist. That may surprise you since you probably think that a Nobel laureate must have found the answers. But the problem is that the answers to these questions change with time and the answers are different today than what they were when I began my career fifty years ago. The strategy of the 1960’s doesn’t work so well anymore. What is different now?
First, what we know now is much more. For example, by 1970, no genes from any organisms were sequenced. In 2013, we have the complete sequence of the human genome. Second, not only do we know much more today, accessing that knowledge is easy. Third, obtaining new information is much faster today.
Our rich understanding of science and technology is now needed to solve many serious problems. The human population has reached the size where we are utilizing all available resource of the planet. We are utilizing all of the agricultural land, all of the water, all of the forest and fishing resources. We are also polluting the planet that we live on.
We are polluting the land with fertilizers and pesticides; the oceans with acids and the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. We are using up top soil and ground water, thereby reducing our capacity to feed ourselves. We are using up petroleum, the energy source that our entire economy is dependent on. These are problems we were largely unaware of, fifty years ago. But these are problems that must be solved in your life times.
The big question facing your generation is, how can human beings live sustainably on planet earth. Your two broad goals on sustainability are 1) leave the planet as you first found it for your future generations; don’t use up the resources and don’t pollute the planet 2) everyone deserves to have an equal share of the earth’s resources.
Income strongly determines one’s opportunities in life. Many poor people succumb to chronic diseases and unhealthy environments. This inequality undermines our ability to live sustainably. We can’t ask the poor to leave the planet as they found it if they can’t support their families. Education, healthcare, employment are essential to having a sustainable society.
How can we be a successful scientist in 2013?
1. First choose a problem to solve
2. Ask questions to understand why it is not solved
3. Collaborate with those who can help
4. Develop a solution that works in the real world
Chronic diseases are our major burden and this burden will get worse. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia and other diseases. The good news is that the chronic diseases are largely preventable and more easily curable if detected early. One question that attracts me is how can we detect disease earlier when it can be more easily cured?
Can we use our increasing knowledge in molecular biology to identify biomarkers for early disease detection?
We need to collaborate very closely with clinicians who care for patients to find out exactly where they need help.
I think if we apply our technology to important clinical questions we will actually save medical expenditure and be well on our way to making a great contribution to society.
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