Biology: From Molecules to Man
Biology: From Molecules to Man is a special program under the auspices of The HistoryMakers ScienceMakers initiative taped live at the Center of Science and Industry (CoSI) in Columbus, Ohio on February 26, 2010. The program features a collection of prominent African American scientists that includes Brown University’s Wayne Bowen, Emory University’s George Jones and more.
- The following program was funded in part by Toyota.
AT&T, Baldwin Richardson Foods,
Lincoln Financial Group, Apple, American Airlines.
A complete list is available,
(soft piano music)
- Thank you
for having me here this evening.
You know, one of the best parts of being a journalist
is the fact that I can investigate a wide range of topics.
And tonight I get to delve into the world of biology,
with the leading minds in the field of that science.
Our first guest's interest in chemistry,
began at an early age.
When he was in elementary school
and liked to mix the contents
of his household medicine cabinet.
I'm sure mom and dad loved that.
He received his BS degree in chemistry
from Morgan State College in 1974,
and subsequently pursued his PhD
with a major in Biochemistry and a minor in Neurobiology,
from Cornell University.
He received a coveted Postdoctoral Staff Fellowship
at the National Institute of Mental Health,
before being appointed Assistant Professor of Biology
at Brown University in 1983.
And later, Associate Professor in 1989.
At Brown, he serves as the Upjohn Professor of Pharmacology
and chair of the department.
His current work includes a complex field
that combines Chemistry, Pharmacology, Neuroscience,
and cancer biology.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Wayne Bowen.
- Thank you very much for that introduction.
It's really a pleasure and an honor to be here tonight,
to talk to you about some of the work we've been doing
on Sigma receptors in cancer.
However, since those two kids in the video
have already cured cancer,
I probably don't have to say too much.
How many of you out there have known someone
who has had cancer or whose lives
have been impacted by cancer? Lots of hands go up.
So cancer, as you know, is a very prevalent
and widely spread disease.
And what we're trying to do,
is find novel ways to treat cancer.
So what, so what is cancer?
Cancer is the abnormal and uncontrolled growth
of cells in the body.
And most cells have a built in biochemical program
that will initiate a sort of cellular suicide,
after the cell reaches a certain age,
or after it has gone through a certain number of divisions.
This process is called apoptosis or programmed cell death.
And cancer cells have learned how to turn this process off.
They've been able to disable this process
so that they continue to divide and divide.
And cell growth can also be stimulated
by our body's own growth hormone.
So for example, some breast cancers
are stimulated by estrogen, the female sex hormone.
Prostate cancer can be stimulated
by some derivatives of testosterone.
So cancer cells sort of hijack our own cellular systems
for cell survival.
And these abnormal cells can spread
from the original tumor site to other sites,
by a process called metastasis.
And there are various ways to treat cancer,
but most of the problems with the current drugs
that are used to treat cancer, as you know,
there are lots of side effects, hair loss, vomiting,
all sorts of, of very bad side effects.
And this is because these drugs tend to be not so specific.
They kill cancer cells in addition to our normal cells,
and that produces all of the side effects.
So a one thrust today, is to try and find more specific ways
to target cancer cells and so our work,
the impact that I think that our work will have
for medicine, is to find a novel target
and this particular way of treating cancers,
called targeted therapies,
where you find a molecule in the cell
that you can target with drugs,
that will turn that cell death process back on.
And the way we are trying to do that,
is through activating Sigma receptors.
Now, what are receptors?
Receptors are proteins in the cell,
or on the cell or in the cell,
that specifically recognize chemical substances,
like drugs or hormones.
And when the drug or hormone binds to the receptor,
it turns on a series of biochemical steps
that I say some biochemistry happens here,
which ultimately results in a response in the cell.
And what we're trying to do, is target the Sigma receptors,
to produce a response and in this case,
it would be turning back on that process of cell death
so that we can kill the cells.
The evidence that Sigma receptors are involved in cancer
are many fold.
One is that tumor cells, both solid tumors
and set what we call cell lines.
And I'll say more about cell lines later,
express high levels of these Sigma-2 receptors.
And in fact, the levels of these receptors go up
even higher, when the cells are in a state
of rapid proliferation.
So aggressive cancer types that divide rapidly
and develop tumors a very readily,
express even higher levels of these receptors.
And most importantly, we've discovered
the compounds that bind to this receptor
are able to kill the tumor cells.
This slide is a list of some of the cancer types that,
that express Sigma-2 receptors.
And what we use in our studies are cell lines,
which are actually cells that are taken from tumors.
And this brings me to an interesting side story.
The very first cell line that was developed,
came from an African-American woman,
whose name was Henrietta lacks.
She went to Johns Hopkins hospital in 1951
with cervical cancer, and they removed the cancer
from her cervix, and put some of the cells in culture.
And these cells have been used for many studies
about cancer, and we've learned a lot about these cells
and there's sort of a controversy brewing now
because the family of Henrietta lacks,
would like to get some compensation for that,
because they're called Hilo cells,
but no one really has associated this name
with the cell lines.
It also brings to light another interesting thing
about these cell lines,
is that while cancer may ultimately kill the patient,
these cells continue to proliferate forever.
Henrietta Lacks passed away in 1951,
and people are still using these cancer cells today.
So this inability to die is very,
very robust in these cells.
And so what we're trying to do is turn on
the cell death process.
We've gone into the laboratory and synthesized
and made new drugs that we know will bind to this receptor.
I'm working with my chemist friends,
we've been able to synthesize these compounds,
test them and prove that they actually bind to the receptor,
and we're now using these compounds,
to kill the cancer cells.
This slide shows one type of cancer cell,
a neuroblastoma, on the left are the control cells
and on the right are cells treated with one of these drugs.
And the yellow dots indicate that the cells are dying
by this process of apoptosis, indicating
that we've been able to turn back on this process
with the drug.
Our data sort of looks like this.
On the vertical axis is the level of cell death,
the amount of cell death that you get.
On the horizontal axis is the dose of the drug
that's exposed to the cells.
And this is cells that have been exposed for 24 hours
and it shows that as you increase the dose of the drug,
you get more and more cell death.
This slide shows the same thing
for a breast tumor cell line.
And this slide shows the same thing
for pancreatic cancer cell lines.
So what I've shown you is that three very prevalent types
of cancer, can be potentially treated
with these Sigma-2 receptor targeted drugs.
Neuroblastoma, or brain tumors, breast cancer,
and pancreatic cancer.
And we suspect that many other types of cancer
can be treated with this drugs as well.
We're also interested in the cell death mechanism.
As a pharmacologist, we're always interested
in how drugs work, what biochemical pathways
are being turned on by these drugs.
This is a very complicated slide,
just showing some of the biochemical processes
that go on in this programmed cell death process.
And we're able to trace the pathway to cell death
and actually determine the mechanism by which the cells
are dying after they've been exposed to these these drugs.
So we think that this is a very promising approach,
and hopefully we'll be able to bring this to the clinic,
in terms of treating cancer as a modality.
Finally, I'd like to end with one last approach
and that's diagnostic tumor imaging.
We know that one of the problems with cancer
is that sometimes it's detected much too late to treat.
And so physicians would like to have a way
of diagnosing cancer very early on.
And we think that if we could design the correct molecule,
tag these tumor cells in an animal,
and then put the animal in a scanner,
you would be able to visualize the visualize the tumor.
And this is a result of,
this is a mouse that's been implanted with a melanoma,
a tumor cell line, it forms a tumor in the thigh muscle.
We then inject the mouse with the Sigma drug.
It's a radioactive Sigma drug,
put the animal in a scanner and what you're seeing there,
that yellow spot that's the tumor.
So we think that you can actually visualize tumors
very early on, see where they've gone,
and this will aid the physician in treating cancer.
So I hope what, I've,
what I've explained to you as a new approach
we're trying to develop.
This drug is far from being in the clinic yet,
but we are at the very early stages,
and hopefully we'll be able to use this approach
to help save more people from dying of cancer.
- Thank you so much, Dr. Bowen.
Fascinating work you're doing there.
Our next guest,
comes to us originally from Muskogee, Oklahoma,
where he attended Manual Training High School.
He received his BA degree in Biochemical Sciences
from Harvard university in 1963,
and went onto the university of California, Berkeley,
where in 1968, he earned his PhD in Biochemistry,
under the tutelage of Dr. C.E Ballou.
Now, after serving as the associate chairman
for space and facilities in biology
at the University of Michigan,
he moved to Emory University in 1989,
to serve as its Dean, in the graduate school
of arts and sciences and vice president,
for research and graduate studies.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. George Jones.
- Well, good evening everyone.
So to begin with, how many of you in the audience
have ever had an infection or any infectious disease?
Let's see your hands.
A lot of you.
So if you've had any such problem,
you almost certainly were infected by a microorganism.
So what I hope to do in the next,
no more than five minutes, is to convince you
that it is a small world, because of the fact
that microorganisms play an extremely important role
in human affairs.
So, what are we talking about first of all,
when we're talking about microorganisms?
They're the organisms that you would think of.
Viruses are microorganisms, bacteria, fungi,
protozoans like amoeba.
All of these are classified as microorganisms,
and again, all of them play a part in nature
and a part in determining the human condition.
As you are no doubt, all very well aware,
there are many bad things that microorganisms do to us.
Dr. Bowen has already told you about one.
There are some forms of cancer that are caused by viruses.
In particular, cervical cancer in women,
has been shown in many cases to be caused
by a virus called Human Papilloma Virus.
So, and that's not the only example.
There are other examples of viruses
that cause cancer as well.
In the news, quite a lot these days,
as you are well aware is Swine flu.
Swine flu is caused by a virus.
How many of you got your Swine flu shots? I got mine.
Colds, even the common cold is caused by viruses.
And again, a very devastating disease
that is still much in the news is AIDS.
AIDS is also caused by a virus,
the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
And I've highlighted Tuberculosis here,
although it's not a viral disease, it's a bacterial disease,
because of the fact that tuberculosis is a disease
that we thought we had eliminated about 20 or 25 years ago,
but it's come back in the last decade or so.
And it's come back primarily as a result
of its association with HIV and AIDS.
Tuberculosis is one of the major infections,
suffered by AIDS victims.
And it's one of the major causes of death
among those victims.
So again, it's a bacterial infection
that we thought we'd eliminated from the population,
but the prevalence and the resurgence of HIV infections
has also brought tuberculosis infections along with it.
So there are many other diseases that I think
you probably know, a lot of them
that are caused by microorganisms.
Those are the bad things that microorganisms do to us.
But they're also good things that microorganisms do for us.
And I'm not going to give you a complete list,
but as I like to tell my students in the courses
that I teach, microorganisms, don't need us,
but we do need them.
Life on this planet, human life in particular,
would not be possible without microorganisms.
In our intestinal tracts, and the intestinal tracts
of everyone in this room right now,
there are bacteria growing, that assist us in digesting
the food that we take in.
We provide them with nutrients,
they help us to digest those food stuffs,
so both of us benefit from that relationship.
And without them, we'd have a lot more trouble,
digesting those big Macs and French fries.
But in addition to the bad things, the good things,
they're also sort of annoying conditions
that microorganisms cause,
that are not necessarily life threatening,
but are problems nevertheless.
So I'm gonna give you a little quiz.
I'm gonna give you the name of a microorganism,
and then I'm gonna give you a sentence
that tells you a little bit about what it does.
And let's see if you can actually guess the condition
that the micro microorganism actually causes.
So let's begin.
Propionibacterium acnes, may make it difficult to save face.
What does that cause? Acne.
Propionibacterium acnes is one of the bacterial species
that causes acne.
Microsporum, try to worm your way out of this one.
Microsporum is a fungus.
Ringworms are not caused by worms,
it's actually a fungal infection
and microsporum is one of the fungal species
that causes ringworm.
Pityrosporum ovalis, head and shoulders above
all the others.
Head and shoulders in quotation marks.
Pityrosporum ovalis causes dandruff.
Streptococcus sobrinus, keep smiling, even if it hurts.
Tooth decay, Streptococcus sobrinus causes cavities.
Again, one of many bacteria that grow in the mouth,
infect teeth and cause cavities.
And finally, Trichophyton, LeBron and Kobe
may have to deal with this one.
Trichophyton is another fungus that causes athlete's foot.
So again, these are examples of conditions
that are not life threatening,
but certainly can be annoying.
All of which are caused by microorganisms.
Finally, my own research deals with a group of bacteria
called Streptomyces, that are notable
for their production of antibiotics.
We have any gardeners in the audience?
If you've ever picked up a handful of fresh garden soil
and smelled it, what you smell in part,
are compounds that are produced
by these bacteria called Streptomyces.
They live in the soil,
they produce antibiotics in the soil,
and those antibiotics can be used to treat human infections.
In fact, roughly three quarters of all of the antibiotics
used worldwide to treat infectious diseases,
are made as natural products by this group of bacteria.
So what my research deals with,
is the mechanisms, the ways in which they manufacture
And what we wanna try to do as sort of a longer term goal,
is to get the organisms that we already know
make these antibiotics, to make more than they normally do.
And maybe even to be able to get them to make antibiotics
that we haven't been able to,
that we haven't seen them make so far.
So it is a small world, microorganisms are everywhere
and they play a critical and essential role
in the human condition.
- Thank you. Dr. Jones.
Makes science sound fun.
Our next panelist traveled the shortest distance
to be here this evening, but had the longest journey,
to be in Columbus.
He is a native of Ghana,
but now resides in the Columbus area.
He attended and graduated from Ghana National College,
in Cape Coast, Ghana in 1969.
He then went on to attend
the University of Ghana, medical school,
earning his MD degree in 1976.
Between 76 and 1977, he interned
at the University of Ghana, medical school.
Now in 1978, after completing his residency in Philadelphia,
he moved to Columbus to work as a fellow in endocrinology
and metabolism at the Ohio state university, in 1996.
He was appointed director of the Division of Endocrinology,
diabetes, and metabolism, and served as interim chairman,
for the Department of Internal Medicine
at the Ohio State University in 1999.
In 2005, he was named Ralph Kirk's,
Endowed Professor of Medicine,
a position he still currently holds.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Kwame Osei.
- Good evening, everybody.
Okay, I didn't hear you well.
- [Crowd] Good evening. - Okay, we are awake.
Thanks everybody for coming tonight.
I also want to thank you Unana Richardson,
when I got a phone call from her,
but I won't tell you the long story.
So I'm here, I'm pleased to be here to join her
and these history and science makers.
My job is gonna be very easy.
Who knows anybody or somebody with diabetes?
90%, so can I walk out of this stage? No.
All right, what we're gonna be talking about
is epidemic of diabetes.
And you will see that there are differences in diabetes,
in different populations.
So my focus will be predominantly in African Americans.
What we see recently is the epidemic of diabetes
in the world.
And I just wanna give you some numbers
and we'll come back home and I'll give you the numbers
for the United States.
Here, we are looking at 2000,
we had 151 million people with diabetes.
2010, this year, we will be experiencing 221 million people
Then you project yourself.
Most of us, hopefully it will be alive by 2025.
There'll be almost 300 million people who have diabetes.
So this gives you a little bit of what we are faced with.
So what you see here, if you have diabetes,
remember you are not alone, you'll have a companion,
almost 300 million people come in 2025.
What we also know, is that in African Americans in general,
we have more diabetes when compared to whites.
And indeed 3 million African Americans would have diabetes
this year, or have diabetes, or the most important thing
is that one in three of every African American over 65,
will have diabetes.
So it's very, very common.
One reason this is more important,
and I will skip some of the slides,
is the complications.
Those who have diabetes, our fear for diabetes,
is not the sugar alone, but what it does to the vessels.
The heart, and here, I'm giving an example,
end stage kidney disease.
How many people have it? If you look at African Americans,
we are disproportionately affected by kidney failure.
And if you go to average dialysis, almost half of the people
who are there will be African Americans.
The same thing applies to amputation.
And you can see that on a slide.
So we got a problem and we need to find a way to do it,
to prevent diabetes.
So I've been told that I can skip my slides
and show you what we can do.
We are blessed that this is a disease that's preventable,
so we don't have to have it.
And the way to do that is to do a couple of things.
Exercise every day and lose some weight.
It's easier said than done, but it's hard to do.
All right, so the study that I will show you briefly
is a very simple study.
They asked people to lose some weight, 10 pounds.
That's all that asked them to do.
Exercise 30 minutes a day, five times a week, that's it.
You can reduce the rate of diabetes by 50 to 60%.
You can cut it by half.
Can we all do that?
Just 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
I know we can, all right?
So we can do that and therefore we are ready to go
and prevent diabetes.
That will be the end of my talk.
Thank you so much.
- Thank you Dr. Osei.
Last, but certainly not least,
we have a native of Chicago, who attended
the Illinois Institute of Technology,
where in 1964, he attended his,
he attained rather, his BS degree in Biology
with a focus in Biochemistry.
He remained in Chicago for his doctoral studies
and pursued his PhD in Biochemistry,
at the University of Illinois, at Chicago.
He then received an assistant professorship
in the Biochemistry and Biophysics departments
at the University of California, San Francisco.
The institution where he would serve in various capacities
for the next four decades.
He also has received the honor
of Professor of Biochemistry Emeritus,
from the University of California, in 2001.
He has a long history of public service,
as well as service to the University of California.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. John Watson.
So today I am a Professor Emeritus, which means I'm retired.
But over those, the time before I retired,
my research focused for over 30 years,
in understanding how cells regulate the formation
and the breakdown of natural compounds.
A particular class of natural compounds that are called,
that are not soluble in water,
and they're called lipids or fats.
How many of you have had friends or know someone
who've died of heart attacks?
When those heart attacks come about,
one of the high risk factors associated with it,
is altered metabolism and utilization
of a lipid called cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a very complex lipid molecule,
but your body makes it.
Your body makes it, but also if you don't have it, you die.
There's no cell in the mammalian or the human body,
if you do not have cholesterol, you will die.
So your body is fortunate enough to be able to make it.
We're not dependent upon our diet to have cholesterol there.
However, we all eat eggs and we all eat meat
and all sorts of other foods that contain cholesterol.
And it's this combination of the synthesis of,
the making of cholesterol and the dietary cholesterol
that can contribute to too much cholesterol
being in the blood vessels.
And that extra level, that high amounts of cholesterol
can contribute to a major risk factor in Atherosclerosis.
And of heart disease.
And heart disease is the major cause of death
in the United States.
So studying how cells control on the making
of cholesterol becomes very important,
in the sense that, to the extent we understand
how cells make cholesterol,
we could control the formation of it
and reduce the incidents of heart attacks.
That I was blessed in my career
to be able to be engaged in research
that focused on developing drugs and strategies
to block the making of cholesterol and today,
through the work of, I contributed to it,
but also the advance in science of such a nature,
there are now drugs available,
that will reduce the making of cholesterol
and reduce the incidents of heart attacks.
One of those drugs is called Lipitor.
And I know that you heard about it on TV.
My efforts in science was fun.
I mean, being a scientist is a lot of fun
because you can be creative
and your creativity is a reflection of you.
It also gave me an opportunity to be engaged in training
and developing young new scholars.
So for the youngsters out there,
I'd say, go for it, look for it in science,
because science provides you opportunities
to do many different things,
as you heard from my colleagues,
we're all to doing different, pursuing different elements
in science, and we all enjoy it.
We all have smiles on our face.
- One basic question that everybody,
well, at least I have tonight,
and you can answer it for us and help shed some light
for other people.
What is Biology?
Let's start with you doctor.
- Well, biology I think in general,
is the study of life, the study of the processes
that give rise to life, the processes that maintain life
and the processes that actually end life.
So I talked about one aspect
of biology and in terms of cancer,
but all of us are dealing with the biological field
in one way or another.
- Dr. Jones?
- Well, I certainly would agree with Wayne's definition,
but let me just add that sort of the subtitle
for our conversation tonight from molecules demand,
biology really even extends beyond that
because there are elements of biology
that have to do with the way biological communities interact
with each other, how populations interact with each other.
Ecology and evolutionary biology, for example.
So there are so many aspects of,
again, the human condition, of the condition of life
on earth that are appropriate subjects for study in biology.
- Dr. Osei?
- I think we have to add plant biology
because there's interaction between humans and a plant.
And most of our products come from plants
and therefore understanding of both the human
and ecological, and the plant is where our life comes from.
- Dr. Watson.
- I would agree with all my colleagues obviously,
biology is the essence of life.
And that essence of life takes reactions
and forms it into some expression,
or the expression of what we call life.
And it results in function and form.
And biology has multiple layers
and there's integrative elements of it.
And we, all living things are connected.
So when you begin to destroy or to lose any element
in that whole sphere of biology, you have an impact
in other dimensions.
- I truly appreciate tonight, how in your presentations,
you really broke it down as far as you could, in lay terms.
It's very technical, a lot of what you do,
and with a lot of syllables and all of that,
but you helped explain a lot of things.
And we learned something about our bodies and our lifestyles
just by listening to your conversation.
But for the budding scientists out there,
the folks who wanna be where you are today.
Tell me about what first motivated you
to get involved in the sciences,
and why is that your passion now?
- Well, in my case, I sort of always knew
that I wanted to be a scientist.
I was always an inquisitive kid,
I got in a lot of trouble for playing around
in the medicine cabinet, as was indicated earlier.
But that was part of my curiosity,
and basically science is sort of trying to figure
out how things work.
And I knew that it was either going to be chemistry
or nuclear physics and I was telling,
as I was telling the high schoolers,
earlier this morning,
I learned pretty quickly that it wasn't
gonna be Nuclear Physics because I wasn't that good in math.
And so chemistry won out, and I pursued it
and it's been a lot of fun.
- So there's hope for us - There's hope for everybody.
- who are challenged with math?
- Dr. Jones?
- Well I too have, essentially always
wanted to be a scientist from,
I can't remember ever wanting to be anything else.
And I was also telling the,
I told the high school students this morning,
that as my introduction said,
I grew up in a little town in Northeastern, Oklahoma.
And I used to go out at night in a place like Columbus,
Atlanta, cities now with shopping malls and so forth,
the lights of the city basically keep you
from seeing what's going on in the sky,
but a little town in Northeastern Oklahoma at night,
the sky is full of stars.
Just totally packed with stars.
I'd go out at night and I'd look up at the sky
and I'd say, "What's going on out there?
Can I figure that out? what is nature saying,
that I can learn something about?"
And that passion again has simply followed me
all through my scientific career.
Again, as I said to the students this morning,
one of the things that excites me,
is that essentially every day, I discover something new.
Something that nobody else has ever found out before.
And that, you can't beat that.
- A curious mind, thank you doctor.
- Yes, my pathway is little different
from the two of my colleagues, in the sense that
I come from a typical African village.
So talk about science, in those villages
where you have no electricity, you have no lights,
you have no water.
So I'm a delayed coming into the science.
And my understanding came through
and my interest actually developed when I,
surely I went to college.
I was going to college after high school to do math.
I beat you on that one.
Very good, excellent.
I was, "This is gonna be the engineer." All right?
So I got a letter from the medical school
to come for interview and I went for the interview.
And luckily I was accepted and you know, so I move on.
But my passion is to ask questions about what is life?
What's out there? like you said.
But also interesting is that,
can we make people healthier and live better?
And that has been my goal.
My goal is what can we do everyday when you wake up,
to contribute to the betterment of somebody's life?
And that's where my curiosity comes from.
So when I give lectures to my students,
the students have so much passion for diabetes.
I said, "Yeah, because this is a deadly disease,
but it's preventable disease."
So we have to have passion and we think
we can overcome diabetes.
- Thank you.
Dr. Watson, why did you get involved in the sciences?
- It turned me on.
- Okay. (all laughing)
- So my interest in science, again,
it's really interesting that, you know,
you really don't just make someone be a scientist,
it has to be coming internally.
And as a kid, I had an interest in science,
always had an interest in chemistry, explore,
like to go into the unknown and understand,
and I never lost that desire,
that kind of turn on that you get
from it being engaged in science.
And it's, even though I've retired,
I'm still engaged in aspects of science.
And I think that, you know,
it's, another dimension of it is that it's an expression
of your creativity.
It's like an artist or, where you can identify a project,
a problem, you are engaged in it, your ideas of what it is,
it was contributing to driving it.
And as George said, each time that you turn the corner,
and you go there, you're seeing things and doing things
that no one else has done.
So that's all - That's great ,that's great.
They're all explorers still.
Dr. Bowen, what do you feel is your greatest contribution
to the science that you're in?
- I think it's the work that I talked about today.
We were among one of the first labs to discover
the Sigma-2 receptor back in the late 80's
and we've been working on the problem ever since,
trying to figure out what the protein did,
what the receptor did.
And then once we figured out that it was expressed
in cancer cells and that drugs could be designed,
that would kill cancer cells via that medium,
we've been trying to see if we could exploit that,
to bring novel drugs to the clinics.
So hopefully the longterm goal is,
we be a contribution to the development
of a new drug target that would open up new vistas
and new ways of curing cancer.
- Dr. Jones, microorganisms.
Talk to us about your contributions there.
What do you think your greatest contribution has been?
- Well, scientifically,
I would probably think that my greatest contribution has
been the fact that my laboratory about now almost
over 25 years ago, was one of the first laboratories
to actually clone a gene that was involved
in the biosynthesis, the production,
the manufacturer of an antibiotic.
That that was a time when those kinds of techniques
were just being developed.
And so our ability to do that
was really a significant breakthrough.
But I guess in sort of the,
from the sort of larger perspective,
I would consider perhaps one of my greatest accomplishments,
the impact that I have had on the lives
of other young budding scientists.
One of the things I again said to the high school students
this morning, and one of the things of which I'm proudest,
it's the very first paper that I published,
when I got to the University of Michigan
as a faculty member,
was published with an undergraduate, a black undergraduate.
He subsequently went on to get an MD from Harvard,
he became an Associate Professor at Harvard,
and he's now in private practice.
And so my feeling is that,
as important as the science is,
it's at least as important that I have an impact
on those lives that I touch as an educator.
- Thank you.
Dr. Osei, you talked a very penetratingly about diabetes
and how it affects African Americans in particular.
What do you think your greatest contribution
has been in that field?
I think my greatest contribution has been trying
to understand why there are ethnic differences
in the diabetes.
I showed you the slide, which showed that African Americans
are more likely to have diabetes, when they do,
they have, you know, they're more likely also
to have complications of the disease.
So the questions why, that's a curious mind,
ask the question and try and follow it.
So we have, you know, about 25 years ago,
we started the journey of going back to Africa
and doing studies in Africa because, you know,
obviously African Americans originated
from the motherland
and therefore they share the same gene.
So it will allow us to define what's genetic
and what is environmental.
And we were amazed when we went to Africa to do the studies.
When we look at people of the same age, the same body size,
that we could not find major differences.
If you took them across the continent
and didn't matter where they lived,
this was probably the best thing we could do at that time
to find the ethnic differences.
We know that whites are
The whites are different from us.
So our contribution was to try trying to understand
what happened to us, what has changed
and ladies and gentlemen, nothing has changed.
Your lifestyle is the commonest problem that we have across.
We've found out that genetics of the two diseases
in Africa and here is the same.
The difference is the rate of obesity
that we have over here, which is overweight
and obesity in African Americans,
is equal to 60%, 70% over there,
the rate of obesity is about 14, 15%
and overweight about 30%.
However, ladies and gentlemen, don't stop there.
They are catching up.
So they are on your way to be like us.
So one day we'll have the same rate of diabetes.
So our contribution was going back home to the motherland
and understanding what's going on out here.
And that actually has given us opportunity
to do more studies.
One of the things that we are doing is to understand why,
again, we have more blood pressure and the same thing.
We've gone back home to connect our heritage
with what has happened here.
And we have collaboratives in England doing the same thing.
And, you know,
I will also agree with you that,
I have a gentleman sitting right there,
who was one of my students.
And this is (indistinct) campus.
This is to me, the most excitement.
I have doctors in town, Mark White,
somebody to talk to today and said,
"Do you know Dr. Mark White?
I said that was my student 1992, you know.
And that is, to me, the most exciting thing
about being an academic institution and be a researcher.
How do we influence people and to see them grow.
So I always say, one day when we are gone,
you guys will take over, now we want you to be the best.
So Quinn and others who are here,
are a testimony to the passion we have,
to make them the best people they can be.
- Thank you,
Contribution, your greatest contribution
you think during your career.
- Sometimes it's difficult to identify the greatest.
- Sure, sure.
- But what I'm proud of and what I feel good about,
is the fact that my efforts have been always oriented
toward developing new models.
Because one of the things in terms of trying to dissect
problems, is having systems that allow you to analyze
and to probe, so you can get an understanding
of whatever you're studying.
And along the way,
there were two models that I developed that help
in the contribution of understanding aspects of cholesterol,
of fat metabolism.
And, and then the other, which is the real excitement,
is having students in the lab and training them
and having such an impact on the particular focus group
that I have, in terms of African American students.
And I've been very, very proud of the results.
There are a number of students who have gone on to PhDs,
there a number of students who have distinguished themselves
in science, either in terms of the applied science
or the investigator side.
- I imagine the road hasn't been
just smoothly paved for you.
We we've got a pothole problem in Columbus, Ohio tonight.
Let's talk about the potholes along the way,
getting where you are today.
What do you think has been your biggest failure
and how you overcame that?
- Boy! Biggest failure?
I think my biggest failure was the C I got
in Physical Chemistry, when I was in, in college,
I'd gotten straight A's and everything else.
When it came to physical chemistry, I got a C
and I had to work really hard to overcome that
and learn that material, so that was a pothole
that didn't didn't derail me,
but it certainly took me down a notch.
In terms of research, research is just difficult.
It's full of potholes, you know, every 90%
or even higher percentage of the experiments
that you do don't work.
And so you have to sort of have a way about you
that perseveres. So there's, there's,
there's potholes all along the way,
and to be a scientist, a successful scientist,
you have to be the type of person
that does not derail.
You can't get a flat tire every time you run over one
of these potholes, so, yeah.
- Thank you, Dr. Jones?
- That's a hard question to answer.
And let me take sort of, a different sort of a crack at it.
I'm not, it would be, it's difficult for me
to point out a single failure. - sure.
- Cause they've been a lot of them,
but something that I certainly would have done differently,
having the opportunity, do it again,
as you indicated in your introduction,
I spent a number of years in academic administration.
I enjoyed that, I learned a lot from it,
especially about how universities work.
But at the end of that period,
what I realized was that at my very core,
what I am is a scientist and having it all to do over again,
I probably would never have gone into administration.
- Thank you, Dr. Osei.
- We still need administrators.
I think I would also change the question a little bit
and define failure.
And I think, I always tell my students,
"Failure is somebody who falls
and they stayed down there and they don't wanna get
up and fight back." And so long as you fall
and you're willing to get back and try
and work your way through you'll be a success.
So always empower the students.
Don't look at the fail, actually, fail is good sometimes.
When you fail, it makes you wake up.
It kicks something in your brain, in your heart.
"Why did I fail?"
It makes us go to set your soul and find answers.
And almost invariably, the answer you're gonna have
this time is better than the one you were trying
to accomplish when you started.
So I always empower them,
think yourself that there will be potholes in Columbus.
There'd be a lot of them.
Have thick skin, believe in yourself
that when you fall, you'll get up,
but if you fall and you stay down there, that's it,
So that's how I look at it.
- Just as we get ready to get Dr. Watson's comments
on failure and overcoming, there are those of you
who may have a question, if you'd like to step
to the microphone there and line up,
we'll start getting to you too.
We wanna hear from you tonight as well.
Dr. Watson, let's talk a little bit about failure
and overcoming that.
- Yeah, that's a, so I was asked that earlier today
and I kind of turn it around because
I look at failure, is it can suggest an absolutism.
Yeah, and I like to look at the lack of achieving something,
as an opportunity to learn.
So if you got a C on your exam,
that's your opportunity now to find out,
"What did I do wrong?"
And from that grow and to be more productive.
And as all of us who are experimentalists,
know that part of doing independent research
is the being able to have patience.
Because you have ideas and you wanna test them
and you go into the laboratory and you go around
testing it, and then it doesn't work and all that.
And sometimes it doesn't work
because you really made a broad mistake.
Sometimes it works because your idea was stupid,
and so it's the times when you have success
that give you the energy that allows you
to go through dry periods.
So you get fat, and it may only be for a month or two,
and then you get lean again, and then you come back,
but each time you do, you're advancing.
And that's the joy, that's the joy.
- Great baseball players, you know, they strike out
more than eight home runs, don't they?
But they keep coming back to the plate.
Sir, we'll take your question.
- I've enjoyed it, thank you.
My name is Curtis Juul,
and I'm a businessman here locally in town,
but I've been on the board of this institution
for many years and served as vice chair for a time
because I have a passion for the young folk
to learn math and science at an early age,
because this institution has always been an institution
where you learn math and science and have fun.
Which means kids need to get
started early and not be intimidated by math and science,
which many of our youngsters are,
and never go into the sciences.
Do you gentlemen have anything to offer,
given the limited number of individual mentors
like yourselves, but to recommend what institutions can do
to bring that math and science to kids at an early age
in a fun way and not have it
be perceived as so honorous,
as to be intimidated and afraid of it
and not get knocked down and don't get back up?
- Thank you, let's start with you, Dr. Bowen.
- Well, I think you're absolutely right,
in that you have to start early.
Most of the kids that I, young kids
that I come in contact with,
just sort of naturally have an interest in science
because they're naturally curious.
But something happens as they get older
and they reach a point where maybe they think science
is just too hard or they don't have,
they don't have mentors.
Part of the problem is in the schools
with science not being made fun.
So I think part of it is,
is a change in attitude of how scientists are
and we're all sort of normal people,
we're not nerdy or anything like that.
I was telling them,
I was telling the kids this morning, I, you know,
I play drums, I play in a band, I have a normal life.
So it can be fun.
So part of it is overcoming the sort of stigma
of being a scientist.
The mad scientist, you know, the image that you see in,
that you see in the movies.
But again, it's basic basic reading skills,
basic math skills and writing has to be instilled because
you need those, not only for science,
but for just everything, it's just about everything you do.
- Dr. Jones?
- I'd like to return to a point that Wayne made
that I think is essential here.
And that is that even given my commitment to science
from a very early age,
I think my perspective was that science is here
and life is here.
And I think we've got to impress on kids
that that's not the way it is,
that science and life are the same things.
That science can be fun because there are all sorts
of things in life that science helps us to understand,
and that they can learn about science,
they can learn the hard things
that they need to know about science,
simply by looking at examples from real life.
And I think when we do that,
we can get them excited about it because they see,
that not only is the science fun for its own sake,
but it's also fun and important because of what it tells us
about the world, in which we live.
- Thank you, Dr. Osei?
- Yeah, I think, I totally agree with what
the previous speakers have said.
And I think what we need to do is start very early,
bring science to them, both in the classroom and at home.
We need a curriculum that should really stretch our science
as a fun thing you can do.
And that's how you live your life everyday.
If there's a dissociation between what science is,
and how they live every day.
And since they don't see the money value
coming from science,
they can see the basketball player who can,
and see all these ads, they have the shoes,
they buy their clothes.
They can see the money tomorrow and they think it's shorter
to get there, than science.
And so we need to say,
you don't have to have all the millions
in the world, in a bank,
but you can be a very happy scientist.
There has to be a communication at that level to the kids.
And I can, I was talking to some of the students.
I asked one of them, "What do you wanna do in life?"
"I wanna be a basketball player."
"Okay, Why?" "I wanna make some money."
And he was honest about that, but I said,
you know, "One in a million chance that you will make
that money, but maybe one in 500 chances
are that you'll be a scientist. Where would you wanna
put your money?"
But probably I didn't convince him,
because he was wearing Nike shoes,
all these nice fancy things,
and he can see that, the money's here,
I can see it tomorrow and take care of my family,
but he doesn't see that to make it,
one in a million is almost zero from my point of view, yeah.
- Thank you, Dr. Watson?
- Well, each of us have had junctures in our life
where there's been a person who,
or a set of individuals who gave us that nudge,
gave us that level of support,
that we did a mid course correction and turned a little bit.
And then someone else came along,
coupled with our own internal desire
to achieve and do things.
Because, the question comes down to even
the basketball player, is a person who makes it
into the professional, he's an achiever.
This is the person that's playing basketball,
out in that snow, trying to perfect the shot,
you know, 24/7.
Well, the same logic is involved in being successful
as a scientist or a writer or anything.
You have to be able to make a commitment.
The money issue, is that, is in such a nature that
you know, you're not, you may not.
I won't say you cannot,
but you may not get rich being a scientist,
but got the fun you can have for the rest of your life.
You can't play basketball the rest of your life,
and you are making a contribution that can be lasting.
- Some real income, thank you.
We're out of time.
Isn't that a wonderful thing to say?
In that we have so much to talk about
and we're just out of time for it.
Let's give a round of applause to our speakers tonight
Dr. Wayne Bowen, Dr. George Jones, Dr. Kwame Osei,
and Dr. John Watson.
Raffle winners for free copies
of these science makers tribute tonight and DVD,
you can pick up your copies outside as you leave.
Now, the names are William Johnson, Abigail Kief,
Jim Arnold, Kathy Apple, Steven Warren, Brooke Tregoe,
April Pulk, Keith Rosenberg, Cheryl Jones
and Gabby Rosslyn.
Thank you so much for being with us tonight.
- For more information, or to order
your own copy of "Biology, From Molecules to Man,"
please visit https://www.thehistorymakers.or/
or call 866-914-1900,
The preceding program was funded in part by Toyota.
AT&T, Baldwin Richardson Foods,
Lincoln Financial Group, Apple, American Airlines.
A complete list is available,
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