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Revolutionizing how people understand their own biology

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 15, 2013 11:00 AM

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In case you missed Global Business Hub Contributor Ellen Keiley's segment on RadioBDC earlier this week (Tuesdays around 9AM), you can listen to it here.

Should genetically modified mosquitoes be released into the environment? How easily are you distracted compared to others? Questions like that will be posed and tested at the Museum of Science Boston’s new permanent exhibit scheduled to open November 16, the Hall of Human Life. The exhibit is set out to revolutionize how people understand their own biology according to the Museum’s creators.

The idea came about 10 years ago as part of the strategic plan when the Museum recognized the gap in what the community knows about human biology and medicine. “The exhibit reorganized how the Museum interacts with the outside world and transformed fundraising,” said Museum of Science Boston President, Ioannis Miaoulis.

According to Miaoulis, the Museum works with the best exhibit developer teams in the world now, whereas they used to only use internal resources. The Museum now taps into the expertise of hundreds of members of the community to test ideas, go back to the drawing board, and come up with excellent ways for people to understand human biology and make better choices in their lives.

The Museum received many large gifts from individual and corporate donors. $20,000,000 was raised to support the Exhibit, and the Museum received a $5,000,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center through Governor Patrick’s Life Sciences’ Initiative in current human biology and health research in Massachusetts, hoping to inspire Exhibit visitors to consider careers in this area.

Many Board Members made significant investments into the process without knowing what the exhibit would look like. Funding stalled when the market crashed in 2008 and has picked back up since. The Museum is currently in the process of a Capital Campaign with a goal of raising $250,000,000. $225,000,000 has been raised to date.

According to Joshua Boger, Ph.D., founder and former CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, current Executive Chairman at Alkeus Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Vice Chairman of the Museum of Science Boston, the exhibit was a missing piece no one else is doing. The Museum plays a crucial role in the whole life sciences ecosystem, which is the dominant economic force in Boston.

© Nic Czarnecki / Photo courtesy
Museum of Science Boston

A visitor compares her hands
to x-rays showing how people age
in the Hall of Human Life at the
Museum of Science, Boston

“The Hall of Human Life exhibit helps people of all ages understand and gain an appreciation for the excitement and reality of what is being done from research and development to startups to big pharma to hospitals. Instead of talking at someone about a subject, the visitors are the exhibit and get information specific to them,” said Boger.

“Personally there’s lots of opportunities for philanthropic endeavors, and I always look for places where benefits will be amplified. The Hall of Human Life fits the bill because of the number of people affected by the exhibit now and in the future,” said Boger.

According to Boger, many mid-career scientists and physicians often cite back to someone in their childhood that caught their imagination and opened their eyes to do good and get involved in science. “I hear this over and over again. This exhibit has the potential to create lots of success stories that will cite back to the Hall of Human Life as to why people are doing what they are doing,” said Boger.

According to the Museum’s Manager of Discovery Spaces, Lucy Kirshner, the exhibit focuses on 3 messages:

Human Variability - You can look at your own genome to understand our evolutionary past and how we inherit genes from ancestors who survived in different environments. For example, maybe you inherited genes that make you susceptible to diabetes because of ancestors who lived during times of famine.

Looking At Our Own Anatomy - The exhibit looks at what’s happening with our own bodies. For example, the exhibit explores how cells in our brain are involved in feeling aggression, excitement, or depression.

Environments – The environments we live in, including our social, living, physical, food, and time environments, shape our biology often turning our genes on and off.

There is also Living Lab research in the Hall of Human Life includes studies in vision, balance, neurophysiology, and cognitive processes, and the exhibit will give visitors a chance to participate in Provocative Question Discussions such as:

Should we use vaccinations or not?
Should you be able to get the genetic science of your child?

The Exhibit was designed with the ability to be updated as quickly as new findings come out, and an endowment has been set up to fund the updates. “Whether you are age 6 or age 60, it engages you in science very relevant to you and crosses over to medicine. The Hall of Human Life is the most interactive exhibit in the country and will be the talk of the world,” said Boger.

Ellen Keiley is President of the MBA Women International Boston Chapter Board of Directors, serves as a Vice Chair of the United Way and City Year’s Women’s Leadership Initiatives, serves on the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Advisory Council, appears weekly on RadioBDC’s Global Business Hub segment, and writes for The Women’s Book and Project Eve. She can be contacted at
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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