Monthly Archives: October 2015

WHISTLEBLOWERS IN SCIENCE ARE NECESSARY TO KEEP RESEARCH AND SCIENCE-BASED INDUSTRIES HONEST! 

 

Direct quotations from Dr. Peter Wilmshurst, given in published statements. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Quotations by Dr. Peter Wilmshurst, taken from various published statements.     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Anyone, even professional scientists with a PhD or MD, can make an honest mistake.  However, falsification or other dishonesty by a research scientist is an inexcusable breach of trust.  Since the goal of research is to find the truth, mistakes or alleged falsehoods must be investigated and corrected, in order to let science progress.  Whistleblowers in science have been rather few, largely because it is so much easier to keep quiet and overlook falsehoods or even criminal misrepresentations; speaking out or initiating inquiries about corruption in research typically leads to counter-allegations, challenges to professional reputation, prolonged court cases, and, only small penalties for proven wrongdoers.  Hence, most doctoral scientists keep quiet, particularly if an allegation involves someone with a higher professional rank; this is known as the “code of silence”.

This article describes the amazing adventures of a clinical and research cardiologist in Britain, Peter Wilmshurst, MD, who became a successful whistleblower.  During his medical research work, he found clear unethical and criminal misconduct by individuals and companies, so he courageously initiated several inquiries.  Unlike many others, Dr. Wilmshurst refused to be silenced by bribes or threats, and ultimately forced honesty to prevail.  Dr. Wilmshurst undoubtedly is nothing less than a heroic medical scientist!

Whistleblowing by Dr. Wilmshurst protected heart patients from a dangerous new drug [1-5]! 

In the 1980’s, Dr. Wilmshurst was invited by a very large pharmaceutical company in the UK to participate in their clinical research trial evaluating the efficacy of a new oral drug intended to strengthen cardiac contractions in patients with heart failure.  His research data showed no effects upon contractility in patients, and revealed very dangerous side effects.  According to the company, research data from their own researchers were strongly and uniformly positive.

When he reported his research results to the manufacturer, he was asked to suppress his negative findings.  Wilmshurst refused to do that, and would not keep quiet about his research results despite threats. Later, it was revealed that several other independent researchers had found adverse results similar to those of Dr. Wilmshurst, but fear had prevented them from announcing their findings.  The company published the results of this clinical trial without including Wilmshurst’s research findings.  The government health agencies, professional medical organizations, and several science journals heard Wilmshurst’s pleas for an official investigation, but all were afraid to do anything!  More and more reports from clinical physicians showed numerous medical problems arising in treated patients; finally, marketing this new drug in the UK and the US was stopped by the manufacturer, but sales and usage continued in some developing countries.  Only after a large write-up about Dr. Wilmshurst and his dispute in the Guardian newspaper (UK) was this dangerous pharmaceutical completely withdrawn from the entire world.

More whistleblowing by Dr. Wilmshurst protected migraine patients from a dangerous new medical device [1-5]!

Dr. Wilmshurst had published a research report in 2000 linking migraine to a fairly common developmental defect in the heart, patent foramen ovale.  His expertise as a cardiologist and medical researcher led to an invitation to be a research consultant in a large clinical trial of a new implantable device manufactured by a small company in the US; with implantation into the heart, this was supposed to close the cardiac defect.  The clinical trial examined whether its use would also stop recurring migraine attacks.  His echocardiogram results for treated patients differed greatly from those gathered by the cardiologists implanting the new devices on behalf of the manufacturer.  The company disputed Dr. Wilmshurst’s research findings and claimed that echocardiograms from the implanting cardiologists were correct, but his results were wrong and invalid.

That company then refused to include his research results within their published report on the clinical trial.  The company’s presentation of their clinical trial at a cardiology meeting in Washington did not mention his divergent interpretations of post-implantation echocardiograms, but Dr. Wilmshurst was in the audience (i.e., he had presented some of his own research at this meeting that did not concern this experimental device).  A reporter interviewed Dr. Wilmshurst at this meeting and published some of his comments about the divergent data for this experimental device.  Two weeks later, the company’s lawyers notified him of a lawsuit in the UK for defamatory libel; several more lawsuits for libel followed.

Media and medical journals began describing Dr. Wilmshurst’s ongoing fight against these lawsuits, which cost him much personal money over several years of worrisome court proceedings.  Perhaps in response to their estimates that all these trials would have a total cost of over 14 million dollars, the small manufacturer abandoned production of the new device and went out of business; the bankruptcy ended the lawsuits.  Dr. Wilmshurst again had successfully fought research misconduct and commercial fraud, thereby saving clinical patients from any grief with this ineffective new device.

Important lessons to be learned from Dr. Wilmshurst’s activities [1-5]. 

Several disconcerting lessons about both dishonesty and honesty in research can be learned from this determined British medical researcher and whistleblower.

(1)  Since scientific research is conducted by humans, it is easily subject to unethical conduct due to government inaction, overriding ambition, personal greed, selfish commercial interest, silence about professional wrongdoing, wrongful self-interest, etc.

(2)  Money and commercial interests make total honesty particularly difficult for scientists in cases where their research results contradict or call into question what is desired; research must seek the truth, and is distorted when it looks for only a predetermined result.

(3)  Industrial companies often can pressure and overwhelm individuals by using their large financial resources for bribes, teams of specialized lawyers in expensive lawsuits, direct threats to impugn professional reputation and personal integrity, etc.

(4)  The most common reaction upon finding dishonesty in science is simply silence and a refusal to become involved; this is very easy to do, but such tolerance of dishonesty can hurt innocent people (i.e., patients) and probably is itself a form of dishonesty.

(5)  The penalties and punishments for dishonesty in research are usually small or absent, which then encourages more dishonesty; some scientists even have a very successful career with repeated dishonesty that is widely known [2].

(6)  Corruption within all aspects of medical research is much more extensive than is commonly thought.

The ultimate goal of science is to find the truth, no matter what it might be.  Independent research is the best human means to decide what is true and what is false.  Whistleblowing serves to promote honesty in business, government, and science.  Court cases usually are initiated to pressure and intimidate whistleblowers to keep quiet or repudiate their earlier research findings and conclusions.  Judges and lawyers do not know enough about science to decide about controversies in research (see:  “What Happens when Scientists Disagree? Part V: Lessons to be Learned When Scientists Disagree” ).  As Dr. Wilmshurst has stated, “The law courts are not the best way to determine scientific truth.” [4].

Peter Wilmshurst is a unique individual, and certainly is a hero! 

Dr. Wilmshurst stands up for honesty even when other research scientists say nothing and ignore obvious wrongdoing, compromise their professional ethics by research misconduct, or show no personal integrity.  His personal characteristics and professional standards as a medical research scientist make him a great role model for young scientists, physicians, and research workers in all the disciplines of science.  He does not fear getting involved and announcing the truth even when that means making shocking disclosures about highly placed figures, esteemed professional organizations, very famous science and medical journals, successful large industrial operations, and, malfunctioning agencies in the national government.

It should be obvious that Dr. Wilmshurst is a very distinctive individual who successfully fought against large manufacturing companies, government agencies, professional medical associations, professional science journals, lawyers and courts, and blatant threats to his reputation as a professional clinical researcher.  He could do all of that because he is an ethical scientist with exemplary honesty, personal courage, and professional integrity.  Whereas he speaks out about dishonesty in research, many others choose to keep silent and refuse to challenge dishonesty and corruption; thus, dishonesty in science is widely tolerated [1].

Peter Wilmshurst should be honored for his career-long dedication to honesty and high professional standards in research!  In 2003, he received the HealthWatch Annual Award in the UK for his work against corruption and fraud in medical science [1].

Further information is directly available from Dr. Wilmshurst on the internet! 

A wonderful video presentation by Peter Wilmshurst, “The Role of Whistleblowers in Improving the Integrity of the Evidence Base”, is highly recommended to all reading this article (see:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xze-yPubFIY ).

Also highly recommended to all by Dr.M are both the written version of the speech given by Dr. Wilmshurst on the occasion of his receiving the HealthWatch Annual Award for 2003 (see:  http://www.healthwatch-uk.org/20-awards/award-lectures/65-2003-dr-peter-wilmshurst.html ), and, a very recent 2015 interview of Dr. Wilmshurst by R. von Bredow & V. Hackenbroch for Spiegel Online International, “Whistleblower on Medical Research Fraud: ‘Positive Results Are Better for Your Career'” (see:  http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-whistleblower-doctor-peter-wilmshurst-a-1052159.html ).

Concluding remarks.   

Whistleblowers are essential to help keep everyone honest!  Even large companies and very famous scientists can become dishonest, unethical, or unprofessional.  Lack of honesty in scientific research can lead to grave practical problems for unsuspecting innocent people.   For medical research, Dr. Wilmshurst states appropriately, “Truth should not be decided by those with greatest wealth using bullying and threats to make a scientist retract what he or she knows is true.” [4].

[1]  P. Wilmshurst, 2004.  Obstacles to honesty in medical research.  HealthWatch – UK, Newsletter #52, 2003 HealthWatch – UK Award Lecture.  (see:  http://healthwatch-uk.org/20-awards/award-lectures/65-2003-dr-peter-wilmshurst.html ).

[2]  P. Wilmshurst, 2007.  Dishonesty in medical research.  Medico-Legal Journal 75:3-12. (see:  http://www.medico-legalsociety.org.uk/articles/dishonesty_in_medical_research.pdf ).

[3]  R. Smith, 2012.  A successful and cheerful whistleblower.  The BMJ (British Medical Journal) Blogs, October 10, 2012.  (see:  http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2012/10/10/richard-smith-a-successful-an.d-cheerful-whistleblower/ ).

[4]  R. A. Robbins, 2012.  Profiles in medical courage: Peter Wilmshurst, the physician fugitive.  Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care, April 27, 2012/4:134-141.  (see:  http://www.swjpcc.com/general-medicine/2012/4/27/profiles-in-medical-courage-peter-wilmshurst-the-physician-f.html ).

[5]  P. Wilmshurst, 2012.  Justice Committee – written evidence submitted by Dr. Peter Wilmshurst.  UK Parliament, House of Commons, Select Committee on Science and Technology.  (see:  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmsctech/163/163vw17.htm ).

 

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A JACKPOT FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IS CREATED BY JAMES E. AND VIRGINIA STOWERS!  PART II: THE STOWERS INSTITUTE IS A TERRIFIC NEW MODEL FOR FUNDING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH!

 

Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The life of a major benefactor to biomedical research, James E. Stowers, Jr. (1924-2014), was briefly introduced in the previous article (see: “Part I” ).  I have conjectured there that Jim Stowers must have understood exactly what are the very biggest problems and impediments for research in modern universities.  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research (see:  http://www.stowers.org/ ) precludes those destructive problems and represents a new model to better organize the funding and operations of scientific research at universities.  Part II now examines in more detail the differences between research centers at universities and the Stowers Institute.  I particularly hope that science faculty and administrators at universities will learn about and discuss this new model.

Major differences for science operations between universities and the Stowers Institute. 

The organization of financial support for scientific research at the Stowers Institute differs dramatically from that at universities in the US.  Universities now view science and research only as a business enterprise that is a good means to increase their financial income (i.e., from research grant awards).  This very widespread policy is so counterproductive for research progress that some even have concluded that university science must be dying (e.g., see: “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” and “Science has been Murdered in the United States, as Proclaimed by Kevin Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts” ).  Below are given the chief reasons why universities are so extensively  different from the Stowers Institute.

The number one reason why science in academia is so very unlike that at the Stowers Institute is that universities directly insist that faculty scientists rent laboratory space and support all expenses for their investigations by acquiring research grants.  For universities, faculty scientists now are only a means to the end of increasing their profits (see: “Money now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ); the science faculty presently is forced to spend too much time and emotional energy on trying to acquire more research grant awards, instead of actually doing experiments to produce more new results.  The Stowers Institute replaces research grants by the very large  endowment from Jim Stowers and his wife, Virginia; this endowment is purposefully arranged to continue generating new funds that will be used for future research expenses.

The second reason is that advances in basic research now are downplayed by the funding agencies and by universities, due to its greater distance from generating new products and financial rewards.  Universities and the research grant system give much emphasis to applied research and commercial involvements, since those produce income  more readily.  The Stowers Institute specifically targets basic research, which is the forerunner for all applied research.

A third reason is that the research grant system does not provide much direct support for experimental projects needing 10-20 years to complete.  The most significant questions for research are very large and complex, so answering them simply cannot be accomplished with only the usual 3-5 years of supported research study; getting a research grant renewed always is uncertain, even for famous faculty scientists.  This time limitation discourages scientists from studying the most important research questions. At the Stowers Institute, projects on large research questions are able to be undertaken.

The fourth reason is that the Stowers Institute employs research scientists using contract renewals instead of the traditional tenure system found in universities.  Nowadays, the main way to get tenured in university science departments is to be successful at acquiring research grants; the tenure system mostly counts dollars and differs greatly from the ongoing evaluation of research quality utilized at the Stowers Institute.  Thus, universities actually are rewarding their science faculty for business skills rather than rewarding them for research breakthroughs and science progress.

A fifth reason is that the intellectual atmosphere at the Stowers Institute is much freer and more encouraging of creativity, curiosity, innovation, and interdisciplinary studies than is found at modern universities.  Business is not the endpoint of science; at the Stowers Institute, the openly sought endpoint is research excellence.

What are the effects of these differences upon science and research? 

For today’s universities, science is just a business and their faculty scientists are businessmen and businesswomen.  Their pursuit of money fundamentally changes and distorts the true aim of scientific research.  The chief target of science faculty is no longer to discover new knowledge and increase understanding.  Instead, daily life for many university scientists involves the hyper-competition for research grants, which wastes both time and money, and, makes it very difficult to trust any fellow faculty scientists for advice  and collaborations (see: “All about Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  Accordingly, science at universities now is distorted, degenerated, and perverted; this extensive decay subverts science and research at universities.

Turning university research into a commercial activity distorts the traditional aims of science, and increases the corruption of scientists there (see: “Why is It so very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?” ).  Basic research remains as important as it always has been, and should not be repressed in favor of applied research.  The Stowers Institute recognizes these values and succeeds in pursuing excellence in biomedical science; its success seems to be directly due to the philosophy and organization instituted by its founder and directors.

The policies and organization that Jim Stowers initiated clearly go against all the serious problems for science at universities.  His distinctive design emphasizes using and encouraging creativity, exploration of new ideas by innovative research, vigorous collaborations, and much hard work; this atmosphere aims to result in research breakthroughs and encourages new concepts in basic science.  Jim Stowers and co-organizers clearly have shown how this idealistic atmosphere can be accomplished in today’s world.  It is noteworthy that some large pharmaceutical firms endow their own research institutes quite similarly to what has been done for the Stowers Institute.

Is this huge difference only a question of money? 

Of course, many will say that the donation of a billion dollars would let their university activate enlightened policies for its science.  I disagree, and believe that money alone will not remedy the negative aspects of current university science!  Also needed are wholesale changes in administrative policies, independent leadership, organization, philosophy, working atmosphere, and, much less dedication to commercialization.  All of these are essential!  Although making these changes would rescue university science from its present debilitation, it seems unlikely that such will be undertaken.

Any excuse by universities that they do not have such large funds does not explain why the huge endowments already in-hand at some universities are not spent for the support of scientific research and researchers in a manner analogous to the Stowers Institute.  Instead, these very large funds are used to try to further increase the financial income and profits of academic institutions (e.g., all sorts of entertaining amusements on and off campus, flashy brochures and other publicity,  programs for visiting prospective students and parents, public courses and lectures, travel programs, solicitation of donations, sports activities and athletic contests, television specials, etc.).

Why cannot university science departments mimic the model of the Stowers Institute, and thereby free themselves from their major problems? 

If it is not only a question of money, then there must be something else that impedes adopting the Stowers Institute as a model for conducting good scientific research.  Opinions for identifying this hidden  factor will differ, but I see the actual cause as being the commercialization of science at universities (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” ).  This commercialization changes the whole nature of academic science and research.  The research grant system was intended to enable scientific research, not to change and distort it.  Universities were supposed to produce new knowledge and concepts, to teach, and to investigate the truth, not to become financial centers.  All these ideals have changed so greatly at universities that good scientific research now is hindered and foundering.  The actual priorities are quite different from the needed priorities; until these are changed, faculty scientists cannot hope to escape from their enslavement by the research grant system.

Concluding remarks. 

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research stands as a very successful new model for promoting research advances and science progress.  The big difference to science that Jim and Virginia Stowers have made in the US can and should be copied by universities to reorganize and better foster their high quality research.  This large change in priorities and operations need not be done all at once (i.e., simultaneously for all science departments); it could start with one science department and then expand to others over a 10-year period.  The payoff to universities for removing the restrictions and distortions imposed by viewing scientific research only as a commercial business enterprise, will be a substantial elevation of the quality and vigor of their science activities, and, a more reliable future input of income.

The success of the Stowers Institute dramatically proves that science does not need to be harnessed and hobbled by the research grant system!  Bypassing the grave current problems at universities stemming from the research grant system will reduce or remove the vicious hyper-competition for research grant awards that badly distorts their science, and will increase job satisfaction for the science faculty.  The benefits shown by this new model give some hope that university science need not continue to decay and degenerate until it actually dies (see: “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” ).

 

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THE 2015 NOBEL PRIZES IN SCIENCE ARE ANNOUNCED! 

 

Adjusted Photographic Portrait of ALFRED NOBEL in the late 1800's Taken by Gösta Florman. Common Domain Image obtained from Wikimedia Commons at the Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alfred Nobel_adjusted.jpg .
Adjusted Photographic Portrait of ALFRED NOBEL in the late 1800’s Taken by Gösta Florman. Common Domain Image obtained from Wikimedia Commons at the Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alfred Nobel_adjusted.jpg .

 

Eight scientists from several different countries will share the 2015 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, and Physics.  Everyone in science is excited and is rushing to look in Science or Nature for all the details!  All these new Nobel Laureates should be congratulated by the public and by other scientists for their excellence in experimental research!  For background on the purpose and history of the prizes established by Alfred Nobel, see:   http://www.nobelprize.org .  The latest Nobel Prizes will be bestowed at ceremonies during the extensive Nobel Week festivities (December 5-12,  2015).  Below, I will briefly summarize the new Laureates and their impressive research achievements.

Physiology or Medicine [1]. 

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to 3 scientists who discovered and developed new medical therapies that annually benefit several hundred millions of patients with parasitic diseases: William C. Campbell (Drew University, in Madison, New Jersey, US), Satoshi Omura (Kitasato University, in Tokyo, Japan), and Youyou Tu (China Academy of Chinese Medicine, in Beijing, PRC).  Pharmaceutical drugs resulting from their discoveries by research in microbiology and pharmacology now are widely used for effective clinical treatment of parasitic infections with roundworms (lymphatic filariasis, or river blindness) and malaria; both of these dreaded diseases afflict millions of persons today, particularly in developing tropical nations.  Thus, their basic research in laboratories has had a very widespread practical importance for clinical medicine.

Chemistry [2]. 

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be presented to 3 scientists who discovered different types of DNA repair mechanisms: Tomas Lindahl (Francis Crick Institute, in London, England), Paul Modrich (Duke University School of Medicine, in Durham, North Carolina, US), and Aziz Sancar (University of North Carolina School of Medicine, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, US).  Their independent biochemical research experiments examined how acquired damage to the DNA molecules in genes, and errors in replicating DNA during chromosome duplication, are repaired by different protein-based mechanisms so that genes within cells can continue to function normally.  The importance of their findings in this area, and the large current research competition for making discoveries about DNA repair in relation to developing new treatments for cancer, are emphasized by the fact that only a month ago the prestigious Lasker Prize for medical research was awarded to 2 other scientists for research discoveries about DNA repair.

Physics [3]. 

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to 2 investigators in the field of particle physics: Takaaki Kajita (University of Tokyo, in Tokyo, Japan) and Arthur McDonald (Queen’s University, in Kingston, Canada).  They independently discovered that neutrinos, which are a rather mysterious type of elementary particle, change (oscillate) their identity and certain characteristic properties as they travel at nearly the speed of light from space into the Earth’s atmosphere.  Their honored research was conducted at very special neutrino detection facilities located underground in deep mines, and staffed by many scientists  (Super-Kamiokande Detector in Japan, and Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada).  Their experimental results gave evidence indicating that some neutrinos indeed do have an extremely minute mass; these new findings are  immensely significant for advancing knowledge and understanding about the physics of fundamental particles.

Brief discussion about the 2015 Nobel Prize winners. 

The Nobel Prizes in science continue to bring forth excellent researchers and outstanding experimental studies to the attention of the public worldwide.  Last year I published  some features which commonly characterize winners of Nobel Prizes in science (see: “What does It Take to Win the Big Prizes in Science?” ).  The individual 2015 Nobel Laureates mostly show those attributes, along with several others: (1) some Laureates conducted their prize-winning research work many decades ago, (2) all their wonderful discoveries began with studies in basic research, (3) the celebrated outcome of their work was developed further by important later contributions from other scientists, engineers, and commercial companies, and, (4) some of the prize-winning investigations have large immediate practical applications and impact, while others advance knowledge and understanding so that important new questions arise for further research.  Although some Nobel Laureates in 2015 researched as leaders with large groups of coworkers, all seem to be distinctive individuals who are very dedicated to science, have innovative ideas, and persist in their research efforts.

The new award to Youyou Tu is for her research that also involved very many other scientists for a nationwide effort against malaria that was initiated by Chairman Mao in China.  Her Nobel Prize once again raises the difficult and unanswerable question about whether it really is fair to honor only one person when there is a research partner or many co-workers (see:  http://news.sciencemag.org/health/2015/10/updated-nobel-prize-honors-drugs-fight-roundworms-malaria ).  Some outspoken Chinese critics of this 2015 award therefore might even propose that Chairman Mao should also get a Nobel Prize!

For the latest Nobel Prize in physics, it is interesting to note that several other Nobel Prizes were previously awarded for research on neutrinos, most recently in 2008 (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/ ).  In general, certain research subjects and fields get more Nobel Prizes than do others; this tendency is due to the interdisciplinary nature of some research fields (e.g., investigations in biochemistry might be honored by a Nobel Prize in either Medicine or Chemistry).

For further information about the 2015 Nobel Prizes in Science. 

Readers are encouraged to examine more information about the winning researchers and their investigations!  I recommend reading the text references listed below, since all feature good information suitable for non-scientist adults.   Additional general information about the new Nobel Prize Laureates is available at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/ .

 

[1]  Nobel Prize, 2015.  Press release, the 2015 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2015/press.html ).

[2]  Nobel Prize, 2015.  DNA repair – providing chemical stability for life.  The Nobel Prize in chemistry 2015, Popular science background (see:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2015/press.html ).

[3]  Nobel Prize, 2015.  The chameleons of space.  The Nobel Prize in physics 2015, Popular science background (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2015/popular-physicsprize2015.pdf ).

 

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A JACKPOT FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IS CREATED BY JAMES E. AND VIRGINIA STOWERS!  PART I.

 

Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

James E Stowers, Jr. (1924-12014) must have understood exactly what are the very biggest problems and impediments for modern science before he and his wife founded and generously financed a wonderful new research institute.  This large research center provides a dramatic new model for the funding of scientific research that avoids the dreadful problems now damaging science at universities.  Part I will briefly relate his interesting history and the unusual organization of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.  Part II will explain in detail why this new direction for supporting scientific research is so unusual, very worthy of emulation, and giving hope that the dying science in modern universities can be rescued.

What sort of person was Jim Stowers?

Jim Stowers was born, raised, and educated in Missouri.  Since he recently passed away at age 90, many publications describe his life story [e.g., 1-3].  With his father and grandfather being physicians, he first studied for some years at the University of Missouri Medical School before entering the US Army Air Force where he served as a fighter pilot in WW2.  When back home, young Stowers became a business entrepreneur.  In 1958 he set up Twentieth Century Mutual Funds, which concentrated on serving individual people; this private company grew under his leadership to later be renamed American Century Investments.  That financial business was very successful and his personal fortune grew substantially as the firm became one of the largest mutual fund companies in the US.

Jim Stowers has co-authored several popular books including an autobiography (see image above under the title).  He and his wife, Virginia, a professional nurse, have several children and grandchildren.  Jim and Virginia Stowers each were stricken with cancer, but both fortunately became cancer survivors and dedicated philanthropists for science.  In 1994, they targeted high quality science by founding the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in their hometown, Kansas City, Missouri.  Their personal donations and endowment (Hope Shares Endowment) total around 2 billion dollars!  Jim Stowers is quoted as saying, “My wife and I wanted to give back something more valuable than money to the millions of people who made our success possible, and we think that through science is the best way we can do it” [2].

A good recent video nicely illustrates the life and activities of Jim Stowers; “James E. Stowers, Jr. Tribute Video” is from American Century Investments, and is available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3g531Fwi64&feature=youtu.be .

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research [1-3]. 

Since its opening in 2000, the Stowers Institute has grown to now have 22 research programs and over 500 research workers.  Over 150 research projects by in-house scientists currently involve 75 postdocs, 58 graduate students, 80 research technicians, and 73 support scientists.  In 2012, The Scientist magazine announced that their annual survey had found the Stowers Institute to rank in the top 3 places for scientists to work worldwide.  Dr.M encourages everyone to take a look at the fascinating website of the Stowers Institute at:  http://www.stowers.org/ .

The mission of the Stowers Institute is to conduct the highest quality scientific research in order to find and understand the secrets of life.  By focusing innovative research on genes and proteins it aims to contribute to the betterment of people by its discoveries relating to the causes, treatments, and prevention of diseases.  The Stowers Institute has a number of unusual features distinguishing it from other biomedical research centers.  Unlike all universities, it is self-supported from the very large endowment from Jim and Virginia Stowers; this means that its faculty-level scientists do not need to spend time worrying about the vagaries of research grants, and instead can concentrate on vigorously doing significant research work.  The size and purposeful organization of the endowment funds will generate ongoing income for the future expenses of this major research center.

Another unusual characteristic of the Stowers Institute is that its multidisciplinary teamwork-based approach is directed onto pure basic research (i.e., to be able to advance detection and clinical treatment of cancer and other difficult diseases, it is necessary to first understand very much more about the activities of genes and proteins in normal and pathological cells).  The Stowers Institute is physically organized to facilitate internal collaborative interactions, and provides the many support services and facilities needed for research operations by its principal investigators (e.g., core labs, shared research equipment, technology centers, etc., with each staffed by technical experts).

Two good recent videos show the Stowers Institute and its activities for science.  “NBC features the Stowers Institute for Medical Researh” is from American Century Investments, and is available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMRIrk9nW8k .  “The Stowers Institute for Medical Research – The Local Show” from station KCPT shows some research scientists in action at the Stowers Institute; it is available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1quFJfeuG0o&spfreload=10 .

The BioMed Valley Discoveries organization. 

The Stowers Institute, which features non-clinical basic research, is affiliated with the nearby BioMed Valley Discoveries, Inc.,  also funded by the Stowers endowment.  This company (see:  https://biomed-valley.com ) features applied pre-clinical and clinical research, by conducting new drug trials and clinical research investigations stemming from the basic findings at the Stowers Institute.  Emphasis is given to translating advances from pure basic research into new and better clinical practices at the bedside of patients.  It does not hesitate to work on disease-related projects considered unprofitable by the large pharmaceutical companies.  Success in its ventures presumably will lead to later commercial developments that will add more funds to the Stowers endowment.

Concluding remarks. 

Everyone must admit that Jim and Virginia Stowers have made a big difference to biomedical science in the US.  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research stands as a successful and inspiring new model for promoting research advances and science progress; this will be discussed in more detail in Part II.  The payoff for the public will come later when new findings generated from innovative basic research at the Stowers Institute result in development of more effective clinical treatments for human diseases.

 

[1]  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 2014.  James E. Stowers, Jr.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.stowers.org/James-E-Stowers .

[2]  American Century Investments, 2014.  Innovator and philanthropist dedicated life to helping others.  Available on the internet at: https://corporate.americancentury.com/content/americancentury/corporate/en/press/news-releases/2014/stowers-tribute.html .

[3]  E. A. Harris, The New York Times, 2014.  James E. Stowers, Jr., benefactor of medical research, dies at 90.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/business/james-e-stowers-jr-benefactor-of-medical-research-dies-at-90.html .

 

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