By Michael McDevitt, MD, PhD
What do vitamin C, malaria, and H2O have in common? Plan to attend the “ASH/EHA Plenary Forum: 50 Years of Progress in Hematology” today at 12:30 p.m. in Halls B and C of the Moscone Center to find out. As part of the 50th anniversary of the ASH annual meeting, the Society has invited Dr. Peter Agre, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, to speak on his discovery of water channels in erythrocytes, as well as the discoveries of several other important scientists who started out working on a hematological problem, only to find those investigations serve as paths to much broader scientific stages. The human side of scientific discovery is often overlooked, but will be emphasized in this special presentation. Drs. Kenneth Kaushansky and Willem E. Fibbe will co-chair the session.
Dr. Agre is the ideal selection for such a presentation. Discovering the elusive water channel that biologists had long been in search of at the age of 39, Dr. Agre was already a well-established molecular hematologist. His research program investigating red blood cell surface antigens and red cell cytoskeletal proteins provided important insights into the underlying molecular basis for a number of different clinically significant hemolytic anemias even before his Nobel discovery.
As a resident in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins in 1991, I attended a lunch seminar provided by our department to showcase successful academic investigators. I was privileged to hear an insightful, encouraging presentation related to molecular hematology and careers in academic medicine given by Dr. Agre. Whoever picked Dr. Agre as a speaker for the seminar series as an example of a “successful academic investigators” had no idea how right he or she was. We are fortunate to have Dr. Agre, always an enthusiastic proponent of teaching, mentoring, and physician-scientist training, present the ASH/EHA Plenary Forum. Perhaps one of Dr. Agre’s lessons to young and not-so-young investigators of today relates to Pasteur’s observations on chance and the prepared mind. We look forward to hearing from Dr. Agre about the role chance versus scientific method had in his initial discovery of water channels.
Professor Chi V. Dang, vice dean for research at Johns Hopkins, stated at a celebration of Dr. Agre’s Nobel Prize, “It highlights that the prepared mind can turn serendipity, as in the case of discovery of water channels, into a paradigm-breaking moment.” He continued, “ … a job superbly done, with great depth, without fanfare.” So, it is without too much fanfare, but great anticipation that we look forward to Dr. Agre’s presentation.
Dr. McDevitt indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.
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