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Nobel Laureate in Chemistry gives lectures in Fiocruz

André Costa (CCS)

The 2004 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Aaron Ciechanover, was at Fiocruz on  August 11th to have two conversations with students, researchers and the public at large. The Israeli biochemist shared lessons from over 40 years of work and offered suggestions and thoughts on research methods, professional ethics and the current state of international science.

Aaron Ciechanover was received in Manguinhos by the President of Fiocruz, Nísia Trindade Lima (Photos: Peter Ilicciev - CCS/Fiocruz)

Alongside researchers Avram Hershko and Irwin A. Rose, from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia (USA), Ciechanover discovered a system that has as one of its major functions the disposal of protein waste from the body.

Called ubiquitin, the system discovered by the researcher is directly related to cancer. It identifies useless and modified proteins, which should be selectively removed from the body, at the same time maintaining healthy components which continue exercising their vital functions. Such advance has already led to the development of drugs and diagnostic methods.

The event was sponsored by the global biopharmaceutical AstraZeneca in partnership with Nobel Media and Fiocruz. The visit is a part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII), a global program that takes Nobel laureates to universities and research centers in order to inspire and engage young scientists, the scientific community and the public.

"It is a great honor to talk to such a great scientist. This meeting allows us to think about his contributions and the challenges he faced to win the Nobel Prize", said the President of Fiocruz, Nísia Trinidade Lima, also thanking the companies that made possible Ciechanover’s visit to Brazil.

This is the third visit of a Nobel Prize Laureate to the Foundation as a part of the same program. In 2015, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2011, Bruce Beutler, come to share his experience. In 2014, it was the time of Martin Chalfie, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008.

Ciechanover starred in two activities at Fiocruz: first, he participated in a talk-show format conversation in Life's Museum with the Editorial Chief Officer of Nobel Media, Adam Smith. Shortly thereafter, he met with young researcher at the Official Residence of Manguinhos, for questions of a more technical nature.

"Today, is like a fishing trip. You start not knowing where you're heading, and you use a lot of force along the way".

Throughout the afternoon, among other topics, the researcher talked about his professional motivations, how it is to get to the top of global science, what are some global health barriers today and what makes a good scientist.

Below, six lessons of a Nobel Prize at Fiocruz:

Technology & Science

"Technology is essential to science – both areas go hand in hand. In science, we are limited by technology. We need to know the structure. We are helpless without it. Think about the human genome and about humanities. Every two or three Nobel Prize winners, one is directly related to technology. It is not all, however. A mistake that people often make is to develop technologies, devote a lot of time on them, and so stay away from it quickly – changing it by the latest news. There are people who are addicted to technology."

Big data generation

"Science has changed a lot, for good and evil. In my time, science was something that developed slowly. You started with a question, and evolved slowly in order to answer it, doing one thing at a time. Today, is like a fishing trip. You start not knowing where you're heading, and you use a lot of force along the way. For this, you work with a large amount of data to get an unexpected result. I'm an old-fashioned researcher. I'm still driven by curiosity. I believe that both projects are very important, but we have to be careful. But there is a lot of information in the data, there are many things that we need and we can understand using them."

Bioethics and public life

"The use of a large volume of data also brings dangers related to bioethics. If we are going to sequence an entire population, we need to be careful: the information could end up in the hands of government agencies, or employers or health plans. Science should not be left only to scientists, nor should it exist only in laboratories. It is also deeply connected to public life. Society is also very involved. Think of the case of Angelina Jolie, who spoke openly about the relation with the cancer in her family. She has done a very important job for women around the world."

Open data and paid scientific journals

"We're in a public institution. In addition to Fiocruz, in Brazil, most universities are public. The same happens around the world. Everything what is public should be open and, as the word itself says, available to the public. This information belongs to the public and to society. It is a mistake that such a significant part of the scientific research is published in private journals, which often charge the researcher to access the article he / she wrote him /herself. These publications, however, are a god that we ourselves have created, so, we can destroy it. The only way to stop this cycle is through a boycott. The scientific community should unite and fight against this problem, publishing in open journals. We should radically change the system, because the current one is unfair."

Life after the Nobel Prize

"My life is not perfect. I travel more, but my true love is in the lab. I have a very good group of students, and we are publishing very good and interesting things. That's what I really want to do. Something very important to change is that, after the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Foundation makes us ambassadors of science. About 800 people won the Nobel Prize to date. Of these, there are about 250 living laureates, and, among this group, 100 or 150 who are very active in the activities of the Nobel Foundation. This part of our activity is very important, because, as ambassadors of science, we can speak with politicians and governments that science is the best investment that can be done. "

Public investments in health

"Science is very fragile: it is such as public pension plans, it is very easy to attack it. But through it you can get a poor country and turn it into a rich country. This was the case with Israel. Basically, it all comes down to education. When investing in education and science, society progresses, people live longer, children develop better. But investing in science and education takes a long time. Think of an engineer, an architect, a dancer - in dedication and time they took to graduate. Once graduated, however, they have something that cannot be destroyed. It is a long-term investment: you need to invest and invest, despite economic changes, because this is the best investment that can be done. Governments need to understand it."

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