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Molecular Medicine in the War on Cancer:


The Evolution of Minority Health Research

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"A virologist is among the luckiest of biologists because he can see into his chosen pet down to the details of all of its molecules."

  • —David Baltimore, 1975

Over the years, our understanding of population has changed, as there is still focus on race but more on ancestry, area of geographic origin, and social determinants of health."

  • —Otis Webb Brawley

Dr. Brawley's talk will discuss population differences in health outcomes as defined over the past fifty years, as well as the development of this discipline.  This area of research once was called minority health in the 1970s and 1980s, evolved to be called special populations research, and later health disparities, and now the focus is on health equity.  Over the years, our understanding of population also has changed, as there is still focus on race but more on ancestry, area of geographic origin, and social determinants of health.

Link now to https://Accepting his Nobel Prize for his part in the identification of reverse transcriptase, David Baltimore reflected on the “luck” that virologists enjoyed in their ability to see into problems with molecular precision. Although this vision seems inspiring and compelling today, Baltimore spoke at a time of fierce debate among biologists, legislators, and clinicians as to what, if anything, this molecular approach to disease offered. Many were concerned that seeing into the molecular roots of illness left other problems invisible. This lecture will examine debates over the identification of human cancer viruses and the development of a cancer vaccine during the War on Cancer, an attempt larger than the Human Genome Project, as a case for understanding the promises and pitfalls of molecular medicine. As the 50th anniversary of the War on Cancer approaches, this history also provides an opportunity to reflect on the ramifications of how success or failure are defined for the future pathways of biomedical research.
Link now to 44756 to add this to your Outlook calendar.  

This event is sponsored by the Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum.  Our office advances the historical understanding of the biomedical research conducted at the NIH by documenting, preserving, and interpreting the history of significant NIH achievements, scientists, and policies.  Visit us at    

Flier: Lecture Series_R_Scheffler.pdf (PDF – 8.17 MB Brawley_flyer.jpg (JPEG – 500 KB)

Date/Time: December 16 February 24, 20212022, 112:00–200–1:00 p.m. ET

Videocast VideoCast link:


To view archived lectures from this and other History of Medicine lecture series, please link to


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Robin Scheffler is an Associate Professor within the Program in the Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He studies the history of the modern biological and biomedical sciences and their intersections with developments in American history. His first book, A Contagious Cause, follows the history of cancer virus research in the twentieth century from legislature to laboratory, documenting its origins and impact on the modern biological sciences. He is currently writing a book on the history of the biotechnology industry in Boston, supported by the National Science Foundation and MIT's Levitan Prize in the Humanities. He is in the early stages of preparing a chemical biography of dioxins. The common goal of Professor Scheffler’s projects is to understand the mutual influence of science on society and of society on science.  Dr. Otis Webb Brawley is Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University.  A member of the National Academy of Medicine, he leads a broad interdisciplinary research effort regarding cancer health disparities at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, working to close racial, economic, and social disparities in the prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer in the United States and worldwide.