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Molecular Medicine in the War on Cancer:

Success or Failure?

"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

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 videocast.nih.gov/ical.ics?live=44150 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 https://history.nih.gov.    
  

Flier: Lecture Series_R_Scheffler.pdf (PDF – 8.17 MB)

Date/Time: December 16, 2021, 1:00–2:00 p.m. ET

Videocast link: https://videocast.nih.gov/watch=44150

To view archived lectures from this and other History of Medicine lecture series, please link to https://videocast.nih.gov/PastEvents?c=221.

Photo of Robin Scheffler.

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.  

New display cases in three buildings on campus

New display cases have been installed around campus. Read a comic book about Joseph Goldberger’s work in pellagra in the early 20th century at the Building 1, 3rd floor case. Be amazed at the variety of Clinical Center patches near the Hospitality Desk on the 1st floor of the Clinical Center.  Think about the social context of coloring books from the Clinical Center by its 2nd floor cafeteria.  And salute a leading woman investigator, Dr. Margaret Pittman, in the Building 60 lobby.  Two cases are coming to the Vaccine Research Center, and one to Building 6.

photo of display case containing coloring books from the Clinical Center by its 2nd floor cafeteria



Photo of display case showing a variety of Clinical Center patches near the Hospitality Desk on the 1st floor of the Clinical Center

A new set of neuroanatomy drawings by Santiago Ramón y Cajal was installed in Building 35.

Photo of the Cajal Exhibit, showing large image of Cajal and original illustrations on display along with 3d Printed tiles underneath

Current set of seven neuroanatomy drawings by Santiago Ramón y Cajal will remain on rotation in Building 35. 

The drawings date back to the turn of the last century when Santiago Ramón y Cajal shared the Nobel Prize (1906) with Camillo Golgi for their work on the structure of the nervous system.  We thank our partners at the Cajal Institute in Madrid, Spain for making this exhibit possible.  You can see the original drawings, or touch 3-D prints of enlarged drawing details, until September.



Loan of Original Cajal Drawings on Exhibition in NIH’s Porter Neuroscience Center Extended

Photo of the Cajal Exhibit, showing large image of Cajal and original illustrations on display along with 3d Printed tiles underneath

Current set of seven neuroanatomy drawings by Santiago Ramón y Cajal will remain on rotation in Building 35. 

The drawings date back to the turn of the last century when Santiago Ramón y Cajal shared the Nobel Prize (1906) with Camillo Golgi for their work on the structure of the nervous system.  We thank our partners at the Cajal Institute in Madrid, Spain for making this exhibit possible.  You can see the original drawings, or touch 3-D prints of enlarged drawing details, until September.


Santiago Ramón y Cajal Exhibit  

Michael Potter Exhibit Launched

U.S. National Library of Medicine Photograph by Ernie Branson The Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum opened twin historical exhibits in the Clinical Center in May honoring two NIH greats: Dr. Christian Anfinsen, who shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in chemistry; and Dr. Michael Potter, winner of a 1984 Lasker Award. Anfinsen and Potter began their careers at NIH in the 1950s, when molecular biology and genetics were new fields. They expanded both fields by asking questions that led to deeper understanding of basic biological functions. Their commitment to science influenced their personal lives as well. 

Blast from the Past

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70 Acres of Science


70 Acres of Science: The National Institute of Health Moves to Bethesda 

Michele Lyons - Curator, National Institutes of Health DeWitt Stetten Jr., Museum of Medical Research 

The NIH is the biomedical research organization of the federal government. Why is a government agency located in Bethesda, apparently masquerading as a university? The simple answer is that in the late 1930s, the NIH needed more room and a wealthy couple donated some of their land. The more complex answer involves domestic politics, social reform, international relations, economic depression, scientific advances, and personal ambitions. 

Download: 70acresofscience.pdf (12.3 MB)