By Karl Leif Bates
The Med School’s fourth celebration of basic science was held in and around the Great Hall of the gorgeous new Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Center on Monday, Oct. 14. Basic science hero and Nobel laureate Bob Lefkowitz of biochemistry packed the room for his keynote, “A funny thing happened on the way to Stockholm,” and attendance was steady throughout the day for a series of half-hour talks by Duke faculty from the six basic science departments of the Med School.
“Duke’s scientists are invited to speak all over the world, but they often don’t have the chance to hear about the great science going on in the labs of their own colleagues here at Duke,” said Sally Kornbluth, vice dean for basic science and master of ceremonies for the day.
Anne West of neurobiology said “there’s still a gigantic gulf,” between what she’s investigating and patient care as she seeks to understand gene expression patterns in the brain that might leave one person more susceptible to high stress responses than another. “We’d like to be able to guess who’s going to respond adaptively and who’s going to respond maladaptively,” she said as she updated colleagues on her group’s progress.
But everything doctors can do for you in the clinic had to start somewhere. “New disease treatments don’t spring from nowhere,” said Kornbluth, who’s home department is pharmacology and cancer biology. “To advance clinical treatments, you need fundamental basic science to provide a pipeline of translatable discoveries. We saw several examples of this kind of work today, from Mariano Garcia-Blanco working on ways to eradicate Dengue and Yellow Fever viruses, to Donald McDonnell establishing important links between obesity and cancer via cholesterol metabolism.”
Speaking of progress, three dozen posters out in the lobby offered updates on Duke’s basic understanding of breast cancer and brain cancer; salmonella, chlamydia and fungal pathogens; DNA repair, RNA interference, neuronal circuitry and Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.