by Ella Epstein Over the summer, Rockefeller University president Dr. Lifton gave a lecture on the impact of genetics on human health and disease. Interested to learn more, I reached out to Dr. Lifton to ask him more about his work.
“I grew up in a rural town called Dragona, on the outskirts of Rome not far from the seaside. We had goats, still have chickens, vegetables and fruit gardens, make our own wine, tomato sauce and cheese. I spent a lot of time sitting on a fig tree; I would climb to the highest branch I could reach and sit there reading. Everything in New York is almost the complete opposite, most noticeably the pace of life and concept of time.”
“I grew up in rural PA where my grandparents have a farm. I’m the first person in my family to go to college and the first person in my extended family to go for a PhD. My family is always amazed that I can live in NYC, but I love it here. I’m a diehard foodie, so NYC is the place to be. Plus it isn’t too far from home when I want to go back.”
Steven Lewis sat down with Dr. Shai Shaham, head of the Laboratory of Developmental Genetics at Rockefeller University, to discuss how growing up surrounded by both science and music has shaped Dr. Shaham's perspective on creativity. Research in the Shaham lab uses the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans to study both programmed cell death during animal development and the roles of glial cells in nervous system development and function. Shai Shaham outside his laboratory with one of two C. elegans created by Coco 144 What attracted you to science and who have been your biggest influences? "The biggest influence for me going into science was probably my dad, who was an astrophysicist. Growing up, I heard about the science of celestial bodies and was always fascinated by it. I started out pretty sure I would become an astronomer or physicist." Your sister and brother, Orli and Gil Shaham, are professional musicians and I understand you play and perform as well. What was it like growing up in such a musical household? "My parents were both musical. My mom is a human cytogeneticist and my dad was an astrophysicist and they both played. My mom played piano and my dad violin. I remember, growing up, they would play
“I always knew that I wanted to help heal people, so being a physician has always been my primary focus. However, when I began conducting biomedical research in college I realized how important a research scientist’s mindset and approach to scientific problem solving would be to my skills as a physician.”
By Wiley Schubert Reed Photo: Bernie Sanders Rally @ RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., by Johnathan Comer Gravitational waves exist, climate change is real, and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Last fall, nearly all polling suggested that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. But political leaders and pundits trusted their guts instead of the math. Few believed his run would succeed, and the Republican establishment did little to stop it. Today, Trump is preparing for the General Election, just as the polls predicted. In his article, How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump, data expert Nate Silver admits making a “big mistake” by “selectively interpreting the evidence” and using “subjective odds” rather than basing estimates on a statistical model. Had he stuck to a data-driven approach, he concedes, he would have predicted Trump’s upsurge far earlier (he went back and ran data from the fall and winter to confirm). Similarly, this spring, New York Times columnist and Hillary Clinton supporter Paul Krugman wrote an OpEd piece advising Bernie Sanders supporters who were “Feeling the Bern” to instead “Feel the math.” The data clearly forecasted Clinton as
“During some stretches of time, when experiments are not working or when results are conflicting, research can be a serious struggle. When I first joined my current lab, I worked on a project for a year without being able to produce a thing—and that was pretty hard on me, both intellectually and emotionally. But my latest project has been incredibly productive and rewarding. The breakthrough moments are addictive and what every scientist lives for.”
“I have a small confession: I actually hate bench work. Pipetting is really not for me. The part I love about being a scientist is hanging around with my labmates and just letting our imaginations run wild with what could be going on in the organisms we study. That’s the most fun for me. People often don’t appreciate how valuable an active imagination is for doing science. But imagination is essential when you’re constantly trying to come up with hypotheses and explanations for the weird, unexpected things we see in the lab. Then the scientific method comes in to check those hypotheses and keep us honest.”
by Steven Lewis As someone with type 1 diabetes, I prick my fingers several times a day to test my blood sugar. When I heard about Theranos and how it could completely revolutionize laboratory blood testing, I was beyond excited. I was not alone. When Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos in 2003, it seemed like she was “poised to change health care.” “You'd have to look really hard not to see Steve Jobs in Elizabeth Holmes,” Kimberly Weisul reported for Inc.com in October 2015. Like the turtlenecked icon Jobs, Holmes dropped out of college and seemed destined to radically disrupt an industry before she was 40. Last year, she topped the FORBES list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women with a net worth of $4.5 billion. But on June 1st, Forbes revised its estimate and announced Holmes’ net worth to be zero. Absolutely nothing. On June 12th, Walgreens ended its relationship with Theranos amidst allegations that the company’s technology did not work and that their tests had been run on the machines of competitors. Losing Walgreens was a "crippling blow for Theranos," causing Theranos to close 40 of 45 Theranos Wellness Centers, a critical source of revenue for the company. Despite my hope, I was not shocked.
“It’s pretty hokey and sentimental, my favorite thing about being a scientist is getting to act in the service of humanity. Like, it’s pretty amazing knowing that my work contributes in some way to solving humans’ problems. I actually did always want to be a scientist. I always pretended to be a scientist working in a lab, curing diseases or building technologies that would save the world from some huge problem. I was a huge Star Trek nerd growing up, and despite the hilariously bad TV technobabble, I always liked how Gene Roddenberry and co. recognized science as being a huge part of human advancement. That really resonated with me.”