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by Bill Snyder | Thursday, Apr. 27, 2017, 10:30 AM
Among the thousands of scientists and their supporters who participated in Saturday’s March for Science in Nashville and in Washington, D.C., were several faculty members from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University.
Kathryn Edwards, M.D., who holds the Sarah H. Sell and Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in the Department of Pediatrics and who is scientific director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, spoke at a rally on Nashville’s Legislative Plaza immediately before the march.
“Forty years ago … I stood by the bed of a little girl who was dying of Haemophilus (bacterial) meningitis,” Edwards said. Thanks to the development of the Hib vaccine, which was first marketed in 1985, “that disease is gone,” she said. “The power of science is amazing.”
Warren Sandberg M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, his wife Elisabeth Sandberg, Ph.D., senior lecturer in Psychology, and their 15-year-old daughter Liliana attended the march in Washington, D.C.
Sandberg said he has been concerned about recent assertions that scientific findings are biased or merely opinion. But what really tipped him and his wife into action were the severe budget cuts proposed for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal science agencies, he said.
“We all have to raise our voices,” agreed Mark Boothby, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology, who also spoke at the Nashville rally.
“Active research scientists are not simply about the findings they make,” he said. “We educate and train future educators, who in turn touch thousands of lives by teaching students (future voters) critical thinking skills …”
Science also helps hold the center of America’s melting pot, a constantly changing swirl of different faiths and cultures. “A reverence for facts,” Boothby said, “is so central to social stability.”
An estimated 4,000 people participated in the Nashville march. Brenda Royal, an Advanced Placement Biology instructor at John Overton Comprehensive High School in Nashville, lined up speakers for the pre-march rally.
They included a science teacher, public health official and three physician-scientists from Vanderbilt: Boothby, Edwards and Peggy Kendall, M.D., associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.
Public investment in research is critical, Kendall said. “Drug companies do not perform the nitty-gritty basic research needed to understand how diseases really work,” she said. “Academic scientists do.”
It may take 20 or 30 years before a basic science discovery can make it — in the form of a new drug — to the marketplace. “No one knows ahead of time which of those early studies will turn out to be the most important ones,” Kendall said.
Medical research is also a good investment, she noted. The $32 billion annual budget of the NIH divided by the U.S. population costs each American under 30 cents a day.
“Tomorrow’s cures for less than 30 cents a day,” Kendall said. “Science rocks!”
Bill Snyder, (615) 322-4747
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