Vannevar Bush Lecture Series on Science and Technology Innovation: Phillip Sharp

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 at 6:00pm to 7:00pm

Building E51, 335
70 MEMORIAL DR, Cambridge, MA 02142

This lecture series, which includes eminent researchers and innovators from a wide variety of fields across MIT, will showcase the numerous forms that innovation takes and the pathways it can take from ideation to implementation. 

Title: Convergence in Biomedicine


Recent professionalization and expansion of the sciences has isolated investigators in different fields such as physics, mathematics, biology and engineering. There is no longer a set of renaissance individuals who have mastered the important frontiers of these diverse fields and can creatively find connections—the heart of new transformative breakthroughs. Our societal structures, such as departments of science and engineering, and our governmental agencies, such as National Institute of Health and the Departments of Energy and Defense, each have specific sciences they nurture and different scientific cultures that re-inforce the silo nature of science in the United States. Introduction of the term “Convergence” over ten years ago highlighted this fragmentation and the benefits for society of more integration of different sciences into biomedical research. Convergence arises when multi-disciplinary teams are supported, collaborations rewarded, and environments made available for training.

         Modern biological sciences originated with the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953. This discovery was a convergent event as Crick as a physicist and Watson a biologist. From this discovery, molecular biology arose leading to the amazing development of genetic engineering in the mid 70s and the sequencing of the human genome around the end of the century. These revolutions in biological sciences gave rise to the biotechnology industry, a re-design of medical education, and advances in healthcare. However, these successes in effect isolated much of biomedical science from other areas of sciences such as computational mathematics, engineering, and physical sciences. In 2010, conversations with faculty and officials at MIT led to a public policy initiative to increase the visibility of the promise of an increased convergence of biomedical sciences with computational, physical, and engineering sciences, for meeting society’s challenges. This began with a report from the National Academy of Science, “A New Biology for the 21st Century” in 2010; a MIT White Paper on Convergence in 2011, and an article in Science in 2011 authored with Robert Langer “Promoting Convergence in Biomedical Science” Science 333:527. MIT’s leadership encouraged this public policy initiative and embraced convergence, with the most obvious example being the founding of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Convergence in biomedical science is reality at MIT and becoming a reality across the country, but more slowly than many had hoped. One of its major promises is the integration of large data with other technologies and advances, thereby creating new opportunities for increasing the quality of healthcare at a sustainable cost.

About the Speaker

Phillip A. Sharp is an Institute Professor (highest academic rank) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and member of the Department of Biology and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. He joined the Center for Cancer Research (now the Koch Institute) in 1974 and served as its director for six years, from 1985 to 1991, before taking over as head of the Department of Biology, a position he held for the next eight years. He was founding director of the McGovern Institute, a position he held from 2000 to 2004. His research interests have centered on the molecular biology of gene expression relevant to cancer and the mechanisms of RNA splicing. His landmark work in 1977 provided the first indications of “discontinuous genes” in mammalian cells. The discovery fundamentally changed scientists’ understanding of gene structure and earned Dr. Sharp the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Dr. Sharp has authored over 410 papers. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Royal Society, UK. Among his many awards are the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, and the National Medal of Science. His long list of service includes the presidency of the AAAS (2013) and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the SU2C Project, AACR. A native of Kentucky, Dr. Sharp earned a B.A. degree from Union College, Barbourville, KY, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Dr. Sharp is a co-founder of Biogen and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc.

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Public, MIT Community, Students, Faculty, Staff


Vannevar Bush Lecture Series on Science and Technology Innovation


MIT Science Policy Initiative
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