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The Power of Basic Science Applied to Medical Progress: Past Examples and Hope for Schizophrenia and Bipolar Illness

10/22/2009 4:00 PM 26"100
Ed Scolnick, Director, Psychiatric Disease Program and the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, Broad Institute

Description: An exemplar of the purpose"driven life in medical science, Ed Scolnick details research milestones from a remarkably varied career, revealing how scientific insight and collaborative effort translate into life"saving solutions for millions.

This physician turned biochemist has held distinguished positions at the National Institutes of Health, Merck, and now at MIT, but common themes unite his pursuits: "I'm always excited by the inherent beauty of molecular and biochemical insights into how biology works. Making scientific discoveries for me is tremendously emotionally satisfying and in fact addicting."

In his talk, Scolnick touches on such research breakthroughs as identifying virus oncogenes, and developing treatments for cardiovascular disease, Hepatitis B, and osteoporosis, among others. He emphasizes that teasing out the biochemistry of diseases is "the key to success in drug discovery." In Marfan syndrome, for example, investigators learned that a mutant gene leads to a malfunctioning aorta. Finding a cure flowed from understanding the underlying pathological processes. Scolnick proudly describes research on a gene involved with cholesterol buildup and an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease. This led to the development of statins, which has helped dramatically reduce the death rate in people with heart disease.

Scolnick offers a dramatic chronology of his pioneering work at Merck starting in 1981 to find an effective AIDS treatment, an effort leading to the protease inhibitor Crixivan. His timeline covers more than a decade of scientific collaboration to block the mechanism of HIV, and involves false starts, the death of a key scientist in the Lockerbie bombing, pressure from AIDS activists and corporate overseers, a "miracle" AIDS patient, breakthroughs in measuring viral protein, and more than one "twist of fate."

In 2004, Scolnick turned in a new direction: toward mental illness, a field stalled for decades due to ignorance "about the underlying biochemistry and physiology of the disease." Today, with the help of genomics and computative technologies, researchers are beginning to reveal the basic genetic architecture of schizophrenia and bipolar illness, says Scolnick. The "outline of their biochemistry" is starting to come clear for the first time, leading to the real possibility of novel therapeutics. While the challenges are formidable, he believes, consolidating MIT's "first rate neuroscience, human genetics, chemistry (creates) a unique opportunity to do something in a field that desperately needs the kind of approach and change we were able to bring to the AIDS field."

NOTE: Audio levels for Kastner and Horvitz are very low, but improve when Scolnick begins his talk. We apologize for the inferior audio.

About the Speaker(s): At the Broad Institute, Edward Scolnick works to identify risk genes for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

From 1982"2003, Scolnick served as president of Merck Research Laboratories; executive vice president for science and technology at Merck & Company, Inc; executive director and vice president in the department of virus and cell biology and senior vice president for basic research at Merck Research Laboratories.

Prior to joining Merck, he worked at the National Cancer Institute where he demonstrated the cellular origin of sarcoma virus oncogenes in mammals and defined specific genes that cause human cancer. He also worked at the National Heart Institute.

Scolnick was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1984 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993. He became a member of the Institute of Medicine in 1996 and served on the Board of Directors of Merck & Co., Inc. from 1997 to 2002. He recently was selected as Regents' Lecturer, University of California at Berkeley, Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 University Professor at Cornell University, and appointed to the Board of Visitors at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He currently serves on the board of directors for Millipore Corporation; Renovis, Inc.; and TransForm Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; and on the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board for MPM Capital. He was a member of the FDA Science Board from 2000 to 2002.

Scolnick holds an A.B. from Harvard College and an M.D. from Harvard University Medical School.

Host(s): School of Science, School of Science

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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