By Seema Kumar, Vice President of Innovation, Global Health and Policy Communication
Recently I met two remarkable people who serve as a beacon to all of us about the human impact of scientific innovation. Their passion and determination inspire me to keep doing what I do every day.
Meredith Hardy is the passionate mother and protector of two boys who suffer from genetic mitochondrial disease. Mitochondria are the tiny energy producers of our cells – converting food and oxygen into a fuel source we can use. Any problem with them spells trouble for nearly every function in the body – diabetes, epilepsy, and immune deficiency are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, more children die every year from mitochondrial disease than of all pediatric cancers combined.
When Meredith’s boys, Niels and Lachlan, showed initial signs of illness – from infections and pain to breathing trouble – Meredith had to fight for a diagnosis. No one believed her that her boys might be suffering from something more ominous than the usual childhood illnesses… Until she met the physicians and doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, including Dr. Doug Wallace, Johnson & Johnson’s 2017 Dr. Paul Janssen Award winner.
Dr. Wallace pioneered the field of mitochondrial genetics. His critically important work has inspired treatment plans for children suffering from mitochondrial disease – including those used to treat Meredith’s boys – and it has also deepened the medical community’s understanding of aging and patterns of human migration. He is a brilliant maverick with a quirky sense of humor – he says he’s the “original mitochondriac” and makes the bold claim that mitochondria affect nearly everything. His research suggests he could be right – through human migration mitochondria have become maladapted to our living environments…. and chronic disease may be the result.
Today, thanks to CHOP’s diagnosis and Dr. Wallace’s research and interventions, Meredith’s boys are able to live a functional life. Meredith says that to her, Dr. Wallace is ‘like Elvis.’ A superstar in his own right.
Both Meredith and Dr. Wallace are true champions of science – people who question the status quo and fight for and push the boundaries of medical and scientific research. For me they bring to mind another maverick – Dr. Paul Janssen – who committed his life to solving unmet medical needs, and was known throughout the halls of our company for asking, “What’s new?” He inspired a generation of scientist at Johnson & Johnson to live up to the legacy he left behind.
In his honor and of people like Meredith and Dr. Wallace, Johnson & Johnson is launching the Dr. Paul Jansen Project this week, a new initiative that helps to promote appreciation for the value that champions of science bring to humanity. I helped to spearhead the Project with the goal of fueling the next generation of innovators, celebrating the power of science to change the world and to inspire champions of science across the globe. It is particularly exciting to me because it aims to promote science across generations and geographies – inspiring people of every age, income level, and part of the world.
You can read more about other Champions of Science in a new publication Johnson & Johnson Innovation launched with Scientific American and find out about all of the other exciting programs and initiatives – including a new challenge we launched with Shark Tank’s Daymond John.
Watch this video to hear from Meredith and learn more about her family’s journey with Mitochondrial disease.