Friesen Prize winner Dr. Alan Bernstein: Team science will save the world!

2017 Friesen Prize winner Dr. Alan Bernstein talks with Paul Kennedy about his contributions to Canadian Medicine and advanced research. His own work on stem cells and cancer culminated in his election as the first president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Now, as President and CEO for the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, he continues to encourage and develop the spirit of teamwork that has characterized his entire career.
2017 Friesen Prize winner, Dr. Alan Bernstein. (CIFAR)

As an individual, he may be one of Canada's top scientists, respected the world over. But Dr. Alan Bernstein believes collaboration is what takes science to the next level. The 2017 Friesen Prize winner is enthused about the richness and diversity of scientific research today, as he details in his public talk. He also speaks one-on-one with Paul Kennedy about his trajectory in medical and health science, working on stem cells, blood cell formation, and cancer. He's also explains why — despite those personal accomplishments — he's devoted to bringing great minds together. 

Former head of New York's Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, and inaugural president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Dr. Bernstein is currently President and CEO of the non-profit Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, where the multidisciplinary, cross-border teamwork that has characterized his entire career is put into action to answer vital human questions.

Dr. Alan Bernstein recently spearheaded CIFAR's move into new headquarters at the MaRS Discovery District in downtown Toronto. He championed an open-concept workplace, where nobody — including President Bernstein himself — would have an office. It features a few cubicles, with plenty of purposefully shared places, as well as a wide expanse of otherwise unoccupied space, and a team of smiling faces. There's an atmosphere of collaboration that contributes to an open conversation about the critical importance of scientific research for the future of our country, and our planet.

Alan Bernstein on how collaboration saves lives

"Over the course of the 20th century, approximately 350 million people died of smallpox. That's more than died in all of the century's wars….Today, the number of people who will die of smallpox is the same as it was last year, or the year before — zero. Nobody dies of smallpox anymore, because of research, and because of scientists getting together to eradicate smallpox. They worked together from around the world to eradicate smallpox. It's an infectious disease. There's no point in eradicating it in some countries, and not eradicating it in other countries."

From the 3000-strong team behind the recent discovery of gravitational waves, to the smaller teams like insulin pioneers Banting and Best, the dynamic interaction of minds is what pushes scientific knowledge forward. Some scientists are motivated by the urge to discover and understand nature. Others want to help humanity. It all matters, says Dr. Bernstein.  But with the large-scale problems facing the planet, he emphasizes that it's vital to see global collaborations are necessary for huge international challenges including climate change, infectious disease, and food and water security.

Why should we all be so grateful for that knowledge? Dr. Bernstein argues that science solves problems and improves the human condition. Because it posits ideas based only on reproducible results, he notes that science also "serves as a powerful voice against repression, ideology, and closed societies." 

Alan Bernstein on why Canadian science needs to lead 

"We all know what's going on in the U.S. and the U.K. Those two countries, which have traditionally been the strongest science-based countries in the English-speaking world, are literally shutting their doors and minds. And there's an instability in both of those countries which is both frightening and disheartening, and it's causing the kind of instability that is not conducive to science and to research, or attracting the best and brightest from anywhere in the world."

**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy.