What Everyone Should Know About Science
Dr. Sarah J. Schlesinger has been actively engaged in HIV/AIDS and HIV vaccine research for over ten years. She is currently conducting clinical trials to test a new vaccine called ADMVA, designed to stimulate immune responses and thereby prevent HIV from ever being contracted. A graduate of Wellesley College and Rush Medical College, Schlesinger has been interested in medical science since she was a teenager. As a high school student attending a lecture at Rockefeller University, she boldly asked scientist Ralph Steinman for a job in his laboratory.
Schlesinger worked in Steinman's lab just a few years after he and Zanvil Cohn published their famous discovery of dendritic cells. She then went on to head her own dendritic cell lab at Walter Reed Hospital from 1990 to 2002. With new knowledge about the ability of dendritic cells to orchestrate the body's immune response, Schlesinger and her colleagues are attempting to develop customized immune therapies to target specific infections such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and influenza; certain cancers; and autoimmune diseases.
Question: What should everyone know about scientists?
Sarah Schlesinger: And the first thing I think that I want people to know is that science is a dynamic process. I think many people regard it as static and something for a few people to sort of understand, and it sits over here in this tiny little corner. It’s so not the case. It’s this dynamic process of figuring things out, of discovery, of going back and forth, of controversy and disagreement, and synthesis of one person thinking one thing and another person thinking another, and then a third person coming in and saying, you know, parts of what both of you said are right, and parts of what both of you said are wrong, and this is probably what’s right. And it’s a way of figuring out the world that matters to all of us. And I think that in terms of the kind of science I do biomedical research, all of our health depends on research. You talk about healthcare. You talk about illnesses, drugs, all of that, without really good research, without a really fundamental understanding of how our bodies work, and how disease works, and how we can interfere with disease, how we can prevent disease, how we can cure disease, medical care is in the dark ages.
I mean, if you look at biomedical science, as we know it, came into existent at the very end of the last century. I’m not going to go into all the details of why and how, but just take my word for it. And if you look at how healthcare has changed and how peoples’ lives have changed with the ability of research and understanding to impact on healthcare, it’s unbelievable. It’s a huge quality of life issue for every person.
And one of my worries is with the lack of understanding of how important science is, it’s going to get relegated to a corner, and it’s not going to be something that people do with enthusiasm, and frankly that people fund and understand, because most things in science, and obviously there are some sort of concepts in physics that I hear, and I’m like yeah, okay, fine. I’m glad you can understand it, because I can’t. But certainly the concepts of what I do in biology can be readily understood by most people, and they should be. This is something that people should understand and participate in and care about, because it matters. It matters not only in the sort of philosophical sense of understanding the natural world, but it matters in peoples’ lives, in the quality of the day-to-day life, and the quality of their children’s lives.
Recorded on: June 10, 2008
"Science is a dynamic process," Schlesinger says, that matters in peoples' day-to-day lives.
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