May 09, 2018

UAB immunology leader spoke at Vatican City international conference

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Francis Lund 2017Frances Lund, Ph.D., the Charles H. McCauley Chair of Microbiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, spoke about chronic inflammatory disease and the striking correlation between location and disease incidence at the recent Fourth International Vatican Conference, “Unite to Cure.”

Lund explained how chronic inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and lupus have their highest U.S. concentrations in the Southeast, including Alabama. Yet, she noted, the majority of clinical trials to test possible new treatments for these diseases occur outside of the Southeast.

“We need to do more trials in the epidemic center of disease,” Lund said.

Approximately 7 percent of U.S. residents suffer from autoimmune disease, and treatment of these individuals is estimated to cost $100 billion each year.

The three-day conference focused on how science, technology and 21st century medicine can impact culture and society.

“There were many interesting topics from a philosophical point of view,” Lund said. “It was not a meeting of scientists talking to scientists; it was scientists talking to leaders in the fields of business, technology, ethics, faith and a wide array of other disciplines.”

The conference included an audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Lund, who did her undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame when the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh was still its president, said the audience with the pope “was an opportunity I never thought I would have in my life.”

At the conference, leading decision-makers in health care, business, media, medicine, advocacy and faith discussed ways to collaborate and improve access to health care, increase investment in research and innovation, encourage multidisciplinary collaboration, and help grow healthy communities through prevention, education and better access to health care.

Sessions included global approaches to a world without disease; genetic testing and wellness; patient advocacy and bone marrow donation in the age of cell therapy; progress and responsibility under the idea of dominion over all of creation; and the use of stem cells in cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases.

They also included using stem cells to treat autism and cerebral palsy, longevity and the morality of extreme life extension, gene editing and CRISPR, how prizes can accelerate innovation and discovery, and applying new models of philanthropy to accelerate progress in curing and preventing disease.

Robin Smith, president of the Cura Foundation, one of the conference hosts, says the global event at The Vatican was like Davos for health care. “By uniting together and understanding the challenges that lie ahead, we can speed the delivery of cures and foster great hope for patients all over the world suffering from deadly diseases and dangerous medical conditions,” he said.