A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Getting out of the lab

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate:

Every seat was taken in the main Carnegie Institution auditorium, and in a large overflow room as well, for a presentation on CRISPR genome editing delivered by Dr. Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley. The Monday evening program, which has open to the public, was co-sponsored by the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents and the Kavli Foundation. In addition to explaining how CRISPR-Cas9 is revolutionizing the ‘software’ of biology, Doudna reflected on ethical issues including the conduct of human germline research. In doing so she echoed one of the obstacles to advancing science listed in a slide deck presented by White House Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren the same evening, i.e.,”poor public and policy-maker understanding.”  Dr. Doudna said that she hears daily from families asking when therapeutic uses will come. There can be no doubt that the public wants desperately for research to succeed. Doudna said she was previously reluctant to engage with the public, but now urges scientists to get out of the lab and talk to non-scientists. You know I agree!

Further to the topic of engagement with the public, the Winter 2016 issue of Issues in Science and Technology contains an essay by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith in which he asserts that  “...researchers should embrace the opportunity to better explain to the American people the potential value of their work.” I agree with the Chairman on this point. To read his article, my response and those of Research!America board member and AAAS CEO Rush Holt and quite a few others covering a broad range of issues the Chairman raises, click here.

Last week, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf spoke at the Society for Women’s Health Research annual gala. Many of his comments addressed the importance of data to FDA decision-making; he emphasized the value of patients demanding that their data be used rather than stored or ignored. He also quipped that “no hocus pocus gets around the importance of good basic science.” The next day, the Tobacco Deeming Regulations were released. The Commissioner addressed those and a range of other topics from antibiotic resistance to combination product review, at a conference sponsored by the Food and Drug Law Institute (FDLI), whose president and CEO Amy Rick serves on the Research!America board. View Commissioner Califf’s full remarks.

On the election front, our Campaign for Cures initiative is making the case that faster medical progress should be a national imperative and rightly belongs on the policy platform of each party and every candidate. I spoke with WBAL in Baltimore about the absence of campaign discussion on this topic, even though it profoundly impacts every single American throughout their lives -- we simply must have public and private sector funding and policies that speed medical progress. That’s what the families talking to Jennifer Doudna every day want and expect!

It will make a difference if more advocates like you talk to media -- ‘like’ our campaign on social media, Facebook and Twitter; call in to drive time radio; or write an LTE about the importance of candidates addressing our issues. Please reach out, we are ready and able to assist!


Mary Woolley

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Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.
Abraham Lincoln