The Future of Medicine

As part of the celebration of Lawrence Bacow’s inauguration as Harvard University’s 29th president, six world-renowned life scientists from across the university came together to discuss their vision for what is possible in life science, medicine, global health, and care delivery in an October 5 symposium, “Life Sciences and the Future of Medicine.”

The panel, moderated by Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley, presented work that spanned the spectrum of biomedicine, from curiosity-driven fundamental research to translational science and therapeutics. Dyann F. Wirth, the Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the faculty chair of the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and faculty chair of Harvard’s Defeating Malaria: From the Genes to the Globe, noted that about a third of the world’s population is at risk of malaria.

There are over 200 million new cases each year, and over 500,000 deaths, primarily in children in Africa each year. “If this were easy to solve, someone would have already solved it,” Wirth said. Dyann WirthWirth’s lab leverages genomic tools and novel approaches to better understand the fundamental biology of the malaria parasite and mechanisms of drug resistance, with the goals of understanding basic molecular mechanisms in protozoan parasites and discovering and applying preventive and therapeutic interventions against infection.

Wirth has created a unique malaria research and training network that brings together scientists with expertise in biological, chemical and quantitative population sciences with scholars and professionals involved in drug, insecticide and vaccine development to create new tools and approaches for malaria eradication. Defeating Malaria integrates biomedical, political, behavioral and social sciences and brings business and the private sector into the network.

Wirth noted that since malaria is a disease of poverty, progress in eradication is going to depend on universities and governmental funding because it doesn’t have the incentive of private sector profit that could be used to develop innovative approaches.

“I think Harvard has both a responsibility and an opportunity to make great advances in this field,” Wirth said.