Rutgers Hosts Nobel Laureate for 14th Annual Weisse Lecture (with some librarian help!)

On September 19, 2017, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) hosted the 14th Annual Weisse Lecture on the History of Medicine. This year’s Weisse Lecturer was Dr. William C. Campbell, who shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine with Dr. Satoshi Omura of Japan “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites.”

In his presentation, “Finding Medication: Ivermectin and Beyond,” Dr. Campbell recounted the story of Ivermectin’s development and its antiparasitic uses in both animal and human health. A single pill taken yearly is preventative against river blindness (onchocerciasis), a disease found in South America, Africa, and Yemen. Since 1988, Merck has donated the drug (under the name Mectizan) for distribution within affected regions, and river blindness has been eliminated in most South American countries, with efforts to eliminate the disease in Africa still ongoing. In what he termed a “tirade,” Dr. Campbell stressed the need for much more drug discovery in an era of increasing drug resistance. He concluded his presentation with charming photographs and stories about the Nobel Prize ceremonies and banquets in Stockholm.

Since its inception in 2004, the Weisse Lecture has been overseen by Dr. Allen Weisse. He and his wife Dr. Laura Weisse have endowed the lecture, which is presented as a grand rounds by the NJMS Department of Medicine. Previous Weisse Lectures have featured prominent medical historians and physician-historians, including T. Jock Murray, Michael Bliss, Barron Lerner, and Nancy Tomes. Dr. Allen Weisse himself is an accomplished physician-historian, having published two volumes of oral histories (Conversations in Medicine, and Heart to Heart) and several volumes of essays on medical history.

Caption: Nobel Laureate (left) and librarian (right). Photo credit: Devayani Kumaran, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

In 2016, Dr. Weisse designated me to assume the role of Weisse Lecture Coordinator. Over this past year, he and I worked together to organize this year’s lecture and luncheon. My duties ranged from choosing the luncheon menu with the caterer, to chauffeuring the Nobel Laureate to NJMS and back to the train station. Best of all, I had the honor of introducing Dr. Campbell to the standing-room-only crowd. I made sure to emphasize that even though he was born in Ireland, was educated at Trinity College in Dublin and the University of Wisconsin, and is now living in Massachusetts, his true home state is New Jersey. Both Dr. Weisse and Dr. Campbell served as presidents of the Medical History Society of New Jersey, an organization I have also actively supported, which has actively supported both Special Collections and me as well!

With the support of colleagues in the NJMS Department of Medicine, I am assuming responsibility for the Weisse Lecture going forward. The annual Weisse Lecture is the premier medical history event at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Allen Weisse and Dr. Laura Weisse, and their love of medical history, the Weisse Lecture series is well positioned for a long and successful future.

Robert Vietrogoski