Professor John Rasko to talk about how developments in cell science and genetics are transforming medicine.

Life re-engineered: RPA scientist to give Boyer lectures

August 2018

Professor John Rasko to talk about how developments in cell science and genetics are transforming medicine.

Professor John Rasko to talk about how developments in cell science and genetics are transforming medicine.

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital scientist John Rasko has been named the guest lecturer for the 60th annual prestigious Boyer Lectures, run by the ABC.

Professor Rasko’s “Life Re-engineered” lectures, which will be broadcast on ABC RN’s Big Ideas from October 15 to 18 at 8pm, will examine how developments in cell science and genetics are transforming medicine and changing what it means to be human.

“We stand at the start of a revolution that may alter the very fabric of our being and the essence of what it means to be human,” Professor Rasko said.

“Reproductive technologies and gene- and cell-based technologies offer the possibility of prolonging life and curing disease – and controlling even our evolution as a species.

“I hope to ignite a broader community discussion about issues that confront us all, which is surely what the Boyer Lectures are for.”   

Professor Rasko is Head of the Department of Cell and Molecular Therapies at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney, and Head of the Centenary Institute's Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program. He is also the president of the International Society for Cell and Gene Therapy.

In 2012, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to biomedical research in the field of gene and cell therapy, as a clinician, author, administrator and philanthropist.

Earlier this year, Professor Rasko was among an international team to find a world-first gene therapy cure for thalassaemia, a common condition where sufferers must undergo regular blood transfusions and treatments for iron-overload for life.

In 2017, he also led a team which found a world-first gene therapy cure for haemophilia.

“To be able to offer patients a cure now or in the future is a dream come true for me and the culmination of more than 25 years’ work,” Professor Rasko said at the time.

“It is also a stepping stone for us to focus on more than 4000 other genetic diseases which have no cure or suitable treatment.”

ABC Chairman Justin Milne said Professor Rasko was an Australian pioneer in the application of adult stem cells and genetic therapy and his Boyer Lectures came at a crucial time.

“Gene therapy will give many people longer and healthier lives but at the same time these technologies raise ethical and moral issues we will need to resolve.

“The Boyer Lectures exemplify the ABC’s commitment to stimulating discussion and debate about major issues in Australia. In the 60th year of the Boyers, John is uniquely placed to help us examine the future of science, medicine and humanity.”

Across four lectures, Professor Rasko will explore issues such as:

  • How advances in biomedicine, such as prenatal testing and gene therapy, have revived the debate around eugenics – a concept poisoned by its association with the Nazis.
  • How gene therapies will not only enable us to cure inheritable diseases but to re-engineer ourselves at the most basic level.
  • Why stem cell research has had such a scandal-prone history, promising the dawn of regenerative medicine but delivering few therapeutic wonders.
  • Whether having the power to re-engineer life gives us the right to do so – a question Mary Shelley posed 200 years ago in her novel Frankenstein.

The Boyer Lectures, which began in 1959, are given each year by a prominent Australian about major social, cultural, scientific or political issues. Prime Ministers, Governors General, High Court judges, archbishops, artists, poets, scientists and business leaders are among those who have shared their ideas and concerns over the past 60 years.

In 1989, pre-eminent Australian philosopher Professor Max Charlesworth peered into the future with his Boyer Lectures series titled “Life, Death, Genes and Ethics”. Nearly three decades later, Professor Rasko reprises that theme with some urgency by examining the future of regenerative medicine, biotechnology and gene therapy.

The four 2018 Boyer Lectures will be broadcast on ABC RN’s Big Ideasfrom Monday 15 October to Thursday 18 October at 8pm, and available on podcast via the ABC listen app. The first lecture will also be broadcast on ABC TV on Thursday 11 October at 1pm.

Professor John Rasko's first Boyer Lecture is now available to watch at https://iview.abc.net.au/show/boyer-lecture-2018-professor-john-rasko

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