The First Line of Defense

Author: John Monczunski

Disease is life gone awry. At its base are complicated, intertwined chemical reactions that get twisted and broken. The way to gain victory over disease is to understand those reactions. That’s what Notre Dame scientists are attempting in labs from as far as the deserts of Africa and jungles of New Guinea. From here and there dozens of campus scientists are laying the groundwork for new drugs and therapies for breast cancer, prostate cancer, malaria, tuberculosis, degenerative eye diseases, heart disease and other maladies.

The researchers’ work is fundamental, a hunt for basic knowledge with practical implications. “We’re not involved in clinical research here, but we are at the forefront in many areas of molecular medicine, trying to find the mechanisms of disease at the molecular level,” says Frank Castellino, dean of science. “Notre Dame is not involved in this on a playground basis. We are at the cutting edge.”

Castellino says much of the work is distinctive to Notre Dame. “They say you can’t teach ‘Catholic science,’ but the questions scientists ask can be informed by the values of the place.” As examples the science dean points to Notre Dame’s Walther Cancer Research Center, which has conducted work on the ethics of the doctor-patient relationship, and the Center for Tropical Disease Research and Training, which works on Third World parasitic diseases. “These are not romantic diseases, but affect the poorest of the poor.”

See more articles from this issue for the snapshots of Notre Dame’s medical research.

John Monczunski is an associate editor of this magazine.