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I am often asked why I have spent the last 14 years of my life in Memphis, Tennessee. I am an Australian, after all. I like beaches and kangaroos. So how in the world did I end up settling in the American South? Why did I accept a position heading the Department of Immunology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital?
The answer is really quite simple: St. Jude is a scientist’s dream. There is a close interaction here between laboratory scientists—such as myself—and all the clinicians, nurses, and specialists whose single objective is to care for very sick children. Unlike at other research facilities, where progress routinely grinds to a halt until new funding arrives, the work at St. Jude never stops. In the end, the scientists’ wish is the fundraiser’s command.
Because of this unmatched dedication and focus, St. Jude has pushed the envelope in unraveling the mystery of childhood cancer. Many children are alive today—not only in the United States, but throughout the world—because of the protocols developed at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. We pioneered techniques that have led to breakthroughs with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Our work has had an enormous disseminating effect in treating more than childhood cancers. We also continue to research and treat sickle cell and infectious diseases, and we use gene therapy in treating genetic diseases. And, of course, we continue to tackle the puzzling scourge of AIDS.
Working at St. Jude, I was able to pursue my scientific interests at a level that led to my receiving the 1996 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Other members of the St. Jude faculty have been lauded with research awards, and elected to the most prestigious institutions in the land, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. Yet our greatest source of pride is the teamwork that goes on within the walls of our facility. This joint effort has enabled us to have a substantial impact on the health and well-being of the world’s children, and that, I believe, is our finest achievement.
Still, we continue to lose far too many children to various diseases. But this is where St. Jude operates, at the forefront of the most difficult problems in child and infant medicine. We have achieved a great deal, but we still have a very long and difficult path to tread.
From the moment Danny Thomas founded St. Jude in 1962, he promised that “no child will ever be turned away for a family’s inability to pay.” For 40 years, I’m proud to say, we’ve kept his promise. Today, his vision lives on through his family, our board members, and the millions of donors who have made our mission a reality. After four decades, St. Jude continues to be on the front line in the battle against pediatric illnesses. We are winning the war, thanks in large part to such ongoing, and cherished, support.
Peter Doherty, PhD