In the Defense of Science

March for Science Darrell Ward Jo McCulty

Darrell Ward has spent his career explaining the complexities and awesomeness of science to a wide audience of people. It’s an important mission, and one that has become even more vital.

“Science is essential to our lives,” said Ward, the Associate Director for Cancer Communications of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). He is also the editor of Frontiers magazine, an OSUCCC – James scientific publication.

“It helps us understand our world, eases suffering, brings beauty and excitement,” he said. “Of late, however, the benefits of science seem forgotten or taken for granted; science itself is being devalued, dismissed.”

This is why Ward attended the recent March For Science in Columbus. The local rally was one of the more than 600 marches held worldwide on April 22. “We marched because science is critical to our health, economies, food security, and safety,” according to the March For Science website. “We marched to defend the role of science in policy and society.”

Ward attended the march with friend and colleague Jo McCulty. They also had personal reasons for attending.

“I’m Alive Thanks To Science,” read the sign Ward carried, and McCulty’s stated: “Thank You Science – I’m Alive.” Ward had a serious heart attack in 2003 and McCulty is a cancer survivor.

“Without science, we would have not made any progress against cancer,” Ward said. “Or Alzheimer’s. Or AIDS. Or Parkinson’s. The list is nearly endless.”

Science is real and real science costs money.

One of the reasons for the March For Science was President Trump’s initial budget proposal. It called for a “major reorganization” for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the umbrella organization that supports and funds many of the nation’s most vital research groups, including the National Cancer Institute. The proposed budget called for an approximately 20-percent cut of the NIH’s budget.

Michael Caligiuri, MD, learned a long time ago the importance of speaking up in support of science and research funding. And he learned an important lesson from Arlen Spector, the long-time Pennsylvania Senator who died in 2012 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“He was a warrior who was instrumental in getting the budget of the NIH doubled (from 1998 to 2003),” said Dr. Caligiuri, Director of the OSUCCC and CEO of The James.

Dr. Caligiuri had the opportunity to meet Specter and discuss ways to find even more funding for the NIH and for cancer research. “His answer was to speak up, to march and let your voices be heard,” he said. “Everybody is ready to cut healthcare funding until they or someone in their family comes down with the disease for which the funding will be cut. Everyone is impacted by cancer, everyone is worried about cancer, and it can be a preventable disease. It takes time and money and research to beat it.”

Science can also save money.

“One of our biggest economic gains is through improved health,” Dr. Caligiuri said, citing the Ohio Colorectal Cancer Prevention Initiative (OCCPI) of the OSUCCC – James as an example. This statewide testing and screening program for Lynch Syndrome will prevent hundreds of Ohio residents from getting colon cancer and “will save the state $40 million in healthcare costs,” Dr. Caligiuri said. “Multiply that by 50 states and that’s how you make economic gains. Not by cutting funds and allowing people to suffer, but by funding research.”

The Specter strategy of speaking out seems to be working.

Congress recently approved a new budget that actually increased NIH funding by $2 billion for the remainder of this year, and they did it soon after the March For Science.

Ward is a scientist and a wordsmith. He has a graduate degree in zoology, worked as a science writer for the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, and then for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency marine research laboratory on the Oregon coast before coming to Ohio State in 1990.

Much of what he writes about at the OSUCCC – James “is basic science and early translational science, that is molecular science that is being applied to help patients.” Ward said. “This work is often difficult to understand.”

To help patients, their families and the Columbus community better understand the science of cancer, Ward helped produce Introduction to the Science of Cancer (ISOC), a free, noncredit, online course for those interested in learning more about cancer. The ISOC consists of five modules: What is Cancer? Diagnosis of Cancer, Treatment of Cancer, Preventing Cancer, and Cancer Research. Each module has seven videos and help demonstrate how science has led to progress against cancer. And is saving lives. Millions of lives.

There were an estimated 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States in early 2016, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This number is expected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026.

This is the power of science and why Ward, Dr. Caligiuri, and so many millions more march, speak out, fundraise and support science. And it’s why Ward has devoted his career to making science easier to understand and more accessible to a wide audience of people in central Ohio and around the world.

He is also a volunteer with Better Healthcare for Africa, a nonprofit organization that supports cervical cancer prevention at two hospitals in Zimbabwe.

“I don’t know of anyone who’s been impacted by cancer who can deny that tremendous advances have been made,” Ward said. “But now, people feel that science is under threat to such an extent they will march in more than 600 cities around the world to make the point that science is relevant and important.”

There are a number of ways to give to cancer research at the OSUCCC – James.