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Professor John Rasko to give 2018 Boyer Lectures

22 August 2018
Cell science and genetics transforming medicine
The University of Sydney's Professor John Rasko AO will explore the power of gene therapy to cure disease, prolong life and alter human evolution in this year's ABC Boyer Lecture series.

Professor John Rasko AO

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

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.

"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."   

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 John Rasko AO, University of Sydney

A clinical haematologist, pathologist and scientist, Professor holds many appointments including being President of the International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy, Head of the Department of Cell & Molecular Therapies at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Head of Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program at The Centenary Institute and Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney.

"John Rasko is an Australian pioneer in the application of adult stem cells and genetic therapy and his Boyer Lectures come at a crucial time,” said ABC Chairman Justin Milne.

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."

John Rasko is an Australian pioneer in the application of adult stem cells and genetic therapy and his Boyer Lectures come at a crucial time.
ABC Chairman, Justin Milne

Across four lectures, Professor Rasko will explore issues including:

  • 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.

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 Ideas from 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.

On 20 September, Professor Rasko will be part of a University of Sydney Health Forum that will unravel the good, bad and ugly dimensions of stem cell research to inform and empower health consumers.

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