A weekly advocacy message from Mary Woolley: A spring time breath of fresh air

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate:

You may have seen this week’s 60 Minutes segment on an experimental therapy at Duke University targeting glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.  Like the PBS documentary based on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s "The Emperor of All Maladies," the 60 Minutes report conveys the gravity of the cancer threat - the unimaginable emotional and physical toll it takes - and the power of science to fight back. The media gets a bad rap - sometimes deserved - for sensationalizing, trivializing, and generally making mincemeat of good science. The negative consequences can be enormous, leading to science skepticism that bleeds into counterproductive public policy. But just as often the media gets it right, capturing science as the workhorse it is, explaining how science addresses human challenges and what that means for people we all can relate to. Please join us to use social media to compliment and encourage the type of science reporting we are seeing this week, and to applaud the patients who bravely share their stories with the public.  

Effective communication is critical if science is to earn and maintain public support. More and more leaders of universities are talking about making it both a recognized and rewarded component of academic success for faculty to engage in public outreach. Discussion of this and related topics were featured in a symposium earlier this week at the University of Michigan. Two Michigan Daily articles, one a general overview of key points and the other an interview with AAAS CEO and former U.S. Representative Rush Holt, Ph.D., capture the ‘breath of fresh air’ approach taken by the organizers and participants.

Last week, I shared our updated fact sheet on Infectious Disease. This week, we release our newest updated fact sheet on Alzheimer’s disease (In 2014, $15.9 billion was spent on Easter in the United States.That amount could fund NIH sponsored Alzheimer’s research for more than 28 years!).

As many times as we repeat the alarming statistics on the prevalence of Alzheimer’s - with the human and economic toll it is taking on our families and our society - the message hasn’t fully broken through. The drum beat must become louder and louder, until we convince policymakers of the need for more research to drive medical progress. The patient story we cite in the fact sheet helps capture the heartbreak. Ron Grant, a prison chaplain diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at 55 years old and his wife and caretaker, Vicky tell their story with impact. 

Here is an opportunity: I urge you to let us know about those research advocates, whether drawn from the patient community, academia, industry or scientific societies, who might be honored at next year’s Research!America Advocacy Awards dinner. Nominations are now open.  We have streamlined the process, making it very easy to put a name or organization forward for consideration, maybe your own! See our website for details. The deadline for receipt of nominations is May 22.   


Mary Woolley

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco