The Trials of Scientific Research

Genetics is an increasingly vital part of medical prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. But as findings increase, so do the challenges. Brian Brown, PhD, discusses the roles of resilience and perseverance in overcoming obstacles in scientific research.


[00:00:00] Stephen Calabria: From the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, this is Road to Resilience, a podcast about facing adversity. I'm Stephen Calabria.

[00:00:10] On this episode, we welcome Brian Brown, PhD, an immunologist and molecular biologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Brown is the Vice Chair and the Director of the Genomics Institute of the Icahn School, and the associate director of the school's Precision Immunology Institute.

[00:00:28] On today's program, Dr. Brown discusses the growing role of genetics in treating major diseases like cancer, and the resilience that scientists must often show in the face of dismissal of their ideas or outright opposition to their findings. We're honored to have Dr. Brown on the show.

[00:00:45] Dr. Brian Brown, welcome to Road to Resilience.

[00:00:48] Brian Brown: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

[00:00:50] Stephen Calabria: Can you provide an overview of your background and experience?

[00:00:54] Brian Brown: Yeah, so I am a scientist. I trained in Canada. My scientific training is in gene therapy and immunology. I did my part of my training in Milan, Italy, with one of the kind of the foremost groups of gene therapy in the world.

[00:01:10] And then in 2007, I was recruited to Mount Sinai to the Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences, started my lab here. And, quickly started working on a number of different things, including sort of work at the intersection of immunology and gene therapy, and then moved towards a lot of cancer focused research.

[00:01:31] And in 2016, I became the associate director of the Immunology Institute, and then two years ago, I became the director of the ICON Genomics Institute, and my lab is kind of now spread into work that is both looking for cancer immunotherapy targets and also developing new immunotherapies using genetic engineering of cells as well as mRNA and lipid nanoparticle type vaccine approaches.

[00:01:57] Stephen Calabria: Was genetics always your area of focus?

[00:02:00] Brian Brown: So I'm not a geneticist. I'm really a molecular biologist, a biotechnologist and an immunologist. So I really, more than genetics, I like to play with genes and use them to perform genetic engineering. And this has been sort of my focus with the idea that you can really.

[00:02:19] Starting more than 20 years ago, I just was taken by the idea that the genome is really, you know, the fundamental blueprints of life, and if we can sort of engineer it in a particular way, in the same way that we can use engineering to get a car to drive us across the country or a plane to fly us from one continent to the other we can use engineering of genes to treat and cure disease and that that concept really took me and and has been the basis of my work for more than 20 years.

[00:02:52] My initial foray into biomedicine and medicine was really as an EMT I was an ambulance attendant in Canada and you know, when you do that work, you come across the sickest patients. Most of the people that we interact with are probably in their last two or three years of their life.

[00:03:10] And, as an ambulance attendant, you don't treat patients longterm. You deal with them for at most an hour. And so we would see patients, we'd bring them into the hospital.

[00:03:21] And one day I had been speaking to the one of the physicians that I had gotten to know and asked about how a particular patient did and they said to me, you know, that we had brought in for, they were in cardiac arrest and essentially the physician told me they didn't make it and they never do.

[00:03:39] It's very rare and it was sort of hit me at that time. I was quite young at the time. And, you know, you think about you're there to save lives and you try your best. But you realize, thinking about it more, can we really save someone at the very end of their life? You know, what do we, we really need to treat them much, much earlier.

[00:03:58] And I then entered university and, and I always thought about it. And when I started to learn about molecular biology and DNA and, you know, the blueprints of life, I thought this is where we need to hit disease. We need to find a way to treat it at its root cause.

[00:04:15] I said, instead of going into medicine, I'm going into research because I don't want to treat people at the end of their life. I want to prevent them from getting to the point where they are that sick. So, that's set me on my journey.


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