Lo is often called the father of noninvasive prenatal testing. After discovering fetal DNA in maternal blood, Lo catalyzed a medical revolution that has saved millions of pregnant people from having to undergo invasive tests like amniocentesis. With Lo’s pioneering technical advances, those who are pregnant can easily and reliably be screened for Rh factor mismatch, trisomies, and genetic disorders, and the implications of his work have and may go further in cancer testing, transplantation, and perhaps beyond.
On any given day, over 50 billion of the cells in your body will die. The question of how we live while our cells are continuously dying has captivated Dr. Vishva Dixit. After a long career in academia, Dixit rose through the ranks at Genentech and currently serves as the Vice President of Early Discovery Research. His scientific work has focused on the elucidation of the mechanisms of apoptosis, including the discovery of caspases.
While great strides have been made with regard to gender equity in biomedical academia, there remains a stubborn imbalance in representation in senior leadership roles. The graduate students from the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School have launched a series called The Roots of Change: Conversations about Women’s Empowerment to grapple with the issue of representation. They invited two giants in medicine to reflect on their lives in medicine: Viviane Tabar and Elizabeth Blackburn. Dr. Tabar is the chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and leads a stem cell biology lab focusing on the development of human embryonic stem cell–derived dopaminergic neurons for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, among other cell-based therapies for the repair of brain injuries. Dr. Blackburn is the former president of the Salk Institute for Biomedical Studies and, before that leadership position, had a long career on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, and UC San Francisco. She is best known for her scientific work on telomeres; she shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of telomerase. The first hour of the Roots of Change conversation, with feminist icon and writer Gloria Steinem, is available on the Sloan Kettering website (https://www.mskcc.org/watch-conversations-about-women-s-empowerment).
In this episode, Ushma Neill interviews Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about her work with trailblazing imaging studies of the brain’s frontal cortex and its dopamine-driven circuitry. Volkow has helped to reveal the neurobiological underpinnings of addiction and how drug-induced changes in brain chemistry contribute to its trademark craving, compulsion, and loss of control. Watch to hear more of Volkow’s views on the value of being an effective communicator and lessons learned from the double pandemic of opioids and COVID-19.
It has been estimated that in the first six months of 2021, mRNA-based vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 have saved 280,000 lives in the US alone and prevented well over a million hospitalizations. It is the scientific body of work of biochemist Katalin Karikó, Senior Vice President at BioNTech SE, that made these vaccines possible. Karikó’s work into nucleoside modifications to suppress immunogenicity of RNA provided the key to successful vaccines and an exit from the global COVID pandemic. In this episode, Ushma Neill discusses this and much more with Dr. Karikó.