Science and music
A mong this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize, there is a musician. His name is James
P. Allison. On 1 October 2018, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was
jointly awarded to him and Tasuku Honjo for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation. He works at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, U.S.
Allison plays the harmonica in his blues band, called The CheckPoints, an appropriate name for his Nobel Prize winning work on immune checkpoint therapy. His research observed that a T-cell protein, CTLA-4 functions as a brake on T cells (white blood cells). Together with his team, they developed an antibody that could bind to CTLA-4 and block its function, enabling and unleashing the immune system to attack cancer cells.
His band members are mostly cancer immunologists from various institutions and companies around the U.S. According to an interview by Inside Science, the lead singer of The CheckPoints, Rachel Humphrey who is also chief medical officer of the San Francisco biotech company CytomX said that great scientists are creative people and that music and science often go hand-in-hand.
Another band member, Thomas Gajewski, an oncologist and immunologist at the University of Chicago and the band’s guitar player admired Allison’s music style, which is the most improvisational in the band. His music is spontaneous and no two performances in a row are the same.
Science is not usually associated to creativity for its tangible results but the world needs creative scientists for continuous innovation.
Arguably, the greatest scientists are artists as well, as Albert Einstein once said.
Lim Guan Yu
You can reach me at [email protected]