June 29, 2011

Video Remarks by Dr. Francis Collins at the 61st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Dr. Collins focuses on global health, innovation, and the future for young scientists in these video remarks at the 61st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. They were provided for International Day (Monday, June 27th), sponsored by the American delegation for an audience that included 23 Nobel Laureates and 700 graduate students from 83 countries. 


Good evening!

I'm Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, NIH. As you may know, NIH is the United States' biomedical research agency, and the proud supporter of 132 scientists who have gone on to win Nobel prizes.

One of them, Dr. Peter Agre, will speak to you shortly… and perhaps he will tell you about his history, including that he was once a hematology fellow in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While there, one of his tasks was to advise a young resident in internal medicine about how to manage some very complicated patients. That resident was me, and I learned a lot! You will too… it's wonderful to see how Peter has brought together his clinical skills and his prize-winning research expertise to make a deep commitment to global health research.

Let me also take a moment to recognize everyone at this year's Lindau meeting… congratulations both to the Nobel laureates and to all of the outstanding young researchers who would like to someday be in their shoes. You represent the best of physiology and medicine… present and future. I regret that I can't be there in person, but, trust me, I'm certainly there in spirit!

I hope you are enjoying this International Day, with its focus on Global Health Research.
It's among the most exciting areas in biomedical science right now…and one that NIH considers vital to the health of all humankind. I'd like to encourage at least a few of you to consider focusing your energies on the many diverse and challenging research questions related to global health. And what a tremendous challenge it is.

That was really brought home to me in the summer of 1989, when I volunteered my medical skills at a small, rural hospital in Eku, Nigeria. That hospital was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. Because there weren't enough beds, patients often had to sleep on the floor. And their families had to feed them because the hospital couldn't provide adequate nourishment. Still, the hardest thing for me to accept was that the vast majority of diseases that I was called upon to treat, represented a devastating failure of both modern science and the public health system. Even if I could help patients survive one disease, odds were that many of them would succumb to other life-threatening disorders in the near future. Disorders that probably could have been prevented through the creation of effective vaccines or implementation of better sanitation. Disorders that could have been treated by the development of new… or more affordable… drugs.

Clearly, this was an overwhelming problem that demanded… and now demands even more… the full attention of modern biomedical science. Over the past few decades, we have made major strides against the "big three" diseases: AIDS, TB, and malaria…and I understand that Dr. Agre is going to give you an update on some of that impressive work. But the job of biomedical research is far from over.

First, we need to apply the power of scientific innovation to more health problems, including the fastest growing causes of death and disability in the developing world… accidental injuries and non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

Second, we need to recognize that scientific innovation can happen anywhere. For too long, we have tended to view biomedical knowledge as something that flows from developed nations to low-income nations. But we need to start seeing innovation as a two-way street. And that is where you come in.

The world urgently needs to encourage the growth of biomedical research that reflects the needs… and incorporates the ideas… of people who live in developing nations. One such an approach is the Human Heredity and Health in Africa, or H3 Africa, project, which is supported by NIH and the Wellcome Trust. This project will enable African researchers to take advantage of new approaches to understand both genetic and non-genetic factors that contribute to risk of illness. Not only will this help people living in Africa, but… since Africa is the cradle of humanity… what is learned about genetic variation and disease on that continent will likely have an impact on the health of people around the globe.

Meeting the challenge of global health will not be easy, especially as we enter an era of seemingly limitless scientific possibilities coupled with all-too-limited resources.
But I ask each of you to stand strong… in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, to "be the change you want to see in the world."

Do not to be afraid to tackle the really hard scientific questions, whether they lie in global health or in other equally compelling areas of physiology and medicine. For our part, I can tell you that NIH is more committed than ever to supporting the brightest, most creative minds in their pursuit of high-risk, high-reward science.

In closing, let me leave you with a few words from one of my favorite speeches…Bobby Kennedy's "Day of Affirmation" address, delivered June 6th, 1966 in Capetown, South Africa:

"The world demands the qualities of youth. Not a time of life, but a state of mind… a temper of the will… a quality of the imagination… a predominance of courage over timidity…of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. It is a revolutionary world we live in, and thus…it is young people who must take the lead."

So, go forth and lead! The world of science is waiting for you.

This page last reviewed on October 9, 2015