February 4th, 2009

Brush with Greatness: Bruce Walker

Bruce Walker has just received a $100 million grant from Terry and Susan Ragon to start a vaccine research institute, with a focus on finding an HIV vaccine. The news of this gift (which as you can imagine has been floating around these parts for some time) is all the more remarkable since it comes at a time when philanthropic efforts are declining precipitously, for obvious reasons.

So what kind of person is Bruce Walker? Aside from his being a genuinely nice guy, several words come to mind: Exuberant, optimistic, energetic. He’s done brilliant translational research in the field of HIV pathogenesis and — no small matter — can explain his work clearly and engagingly to non-lab scientists.

In fact, it may be this last skill that ultimately enabled him to get this incredibly generous gift. Sure, he has the scientific credentials, with literally hundreds of published papers and numerous prestigious grants.

But there are other folks like that in academic medical centers.

Which brings me back to what I think makes Bruce so special. He can describe his research with enthusiasm and clarity to just about anyone — other basic researchers, clinicians, journalists, high school undergraduates, Bill Gates, Elizabeth Taylor, and no doubt the guy he meets in his neighborhood who is out just walking his dog. I’m not kidding.

No matter how abstruse the immunology, he always brings it back to how this work could help — is going to help — actual human beings.

So congratulations to Bruce. After a year of major setbacks on the vaccine research front, this bit of good news is welcome indeed.

(Second in a very occasional series.)

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HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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