Recently, I had the honor of speaking at the Columbus March for Science. For those who may have missed it, the March for Science took place on April 22 of this year in 600+ cities worldwide. More than one million scientists, physicians, educators and science supporters marched to draw attention to the urgent need for public support of scientific research, STEM education and evidence-based public policies. In Columbus, the March drew 5,600 supporters.
I spoke at the March for Science because these issues are important to me as a doctor, as a private citizen and as a candidate. They should not be partisan issues. We are lucky enough to live in a time when we know more than ever before about how our world works and what is and isn’t effective when it comes to policies for healthcare, education, the economy and the environment. We must use that evidence base to create laws and policies that promote better health, a cleaner environment and a stronger economy.
Science touches every aspect of our lives. As a doctor, I rely on science every day to find effective treatments for my patients and help them make better decisions for their health. As an Ohio Representative, I would apply my scientific background to make better legislative decisions for the citizens of Ohio. Because science isn’t a luxury in today’s world. Science saves lives.
Watch my full speech to find out how.
My name is Beth Liston and I am a scientist, an educator and a doctor here in Columbus. I am marching and speaking to stress a simple but important message ‘Science Saves Lives!’ I am representing a community of physicians and the Physician Action Network wearing our white coats. We do not wear red coats, or blue coats – this is not a partisan issue but a real fact. We use science everyday and it is absolutely crucial to the health of our patients and our communities.
When I was a graduate student, which seems like a long time ago now, I had the opportunity to spend several years doing research studying cancer development. We believed understanding the small details of how cells receive information would lead to medications we could use that would only affect cancer cells, and not the normal cells and this targeting would increase the effectiveness and decrease the side effects. This was a really exciting time in cancer research. We were using very basic science concepts about biology and chemistry to develop possible compounds to destroy cancer cells.
Now, I’d like to fast forward a few years – I had finished medical school and I was working as a resident doctor taking care of an older lady, Mrs. S, who was admitted to the hospital. She had come in because she just didn’t have any energy and wasn’t able to do her morning exercises, an important part of her day. When her blood tests came back I was worried about a disease called chronic myelogenous leukemia which is a type of blood cancer. When I explained this, she and her husband were obviously quite scared. They had planned to travel during retirement, not spend this time in the hospital. I had a cancer specialist see her, she had more tests and we learned that Mrs. S had a very specific mutation in the cancer cells that could be treated by a new drug targeting the very same pathway I had been excited about when I was doing research just a few years before. Those types of basic science studies had led to a therapy that meant Mrs. S would be able to treat this illness like a chronic disease rather than a death sentence.
If we fast forward some more years I can tell you about the time I told a family that it looked like their 8 year old daughter Katy had leukemia. In this case she unfortunately had a change in her cells that had was known to have a poor prognosis, with only 30% of kids surviving for 3 years in the past. However, yet again, these newer targeted treatments have made dramatic improvements in outcomes. With that same medication Mrs. S received, Katy now had an 80% 3 year survival rate. Now 80% is not 100%, we still have a long way to go. We must support policies that enable this type of life saving research to continue.
However, this is not enough. There are millions of people in this country suffering from diseases that we know how to treat. As scientists, we also must support policies that USE the science that we already know. This means access to affordable healthcare, but it really affects all aspects of our lives. We know that education and health are entwined, that better education leads to healthier kids and adults, and that it is difficult to learn if you are sick and do not have adequate healthcare. We know that trauma in childhood including exposure to violence and experiencing financial uncertainty leads to an increase in chronic diseases when the kids grow up. We know that pollution and poor air quality worsens asthma and lung disease. We know that water contaminated by lead impairs brain development and leads to lower IQs in children.
These types of important hard earned understandings must be used and we must help spread the knowledge that we have. We must teach children and young people how to evaluate information, how to think deeply and rationally to question, hypothesize weigh evidence, and understand real fact.
We must use these things that we know to work together, create policy and keep our country healthy. As a doctor I use science everyday to help my patients and my community. It is crucial that our government does the same – and so we come together to march and shout this important message – science saves lives.