“Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dear friends and supporters:
As a neurologist and public health specialist, most recently as Deputy Director of the Army’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program, I have been frustrated and dismayed with the slow progress in developing effective therapies to treat patients suffering from severe neurological illnesses. I always wished I could offer something more hopeful to patients. My own father has suffered from severe neurological pain and I have felt helpless not being able to offer him adequate alleviation. My feelings of helplessness have been heightened by my decade working at the Food and Drug Administration, during which time I have seen promising new therapies to treat severe neurological and other illnesses come through the pipeline again and again, only for them to ultimately fail in human trials. In fact, most diseases have little or no treatment available.
What is increasingly coming to light is that animal testing, while not the only cause, is a significant contributor to this high failure rate because it does not reliably represent human biology. And in the meantime, millions of animals each year suffer in laboratories for often dubious results. We need a better way. Thus, when I first learned in early 2019 about an initiative to launch a new organization to help drive biomedical science forward, I immediately jumped at this opportunity.
In February 2019, a team of visionaries, scientists, and policy, non-profit and business leaders convened at a workshop at Harvard Law School to ask how can we help create a momentous shift in medical research in a way that betters human health and that replaces harmful experiments on animals. After three days of brainstorming and strategic discussions, the Center for Contemporary Sciences (CCS) emerged. I have been integrally involved with the development of CCS from the early days of the workshop to now CCS’s official launch.
CCS is unlike any other organization in the U.S. We are outward facing and bridge builders. Our focus is on developing partnerships with diverse stakeholders to encourage open discussions and create solutions. We aim to transform the biomedical sciences by exploring new approaches, facilitating funding to promising new techniques, and engaging and collaborating with partners across multiple disciplines. We are currently a small team, but we intend to build and expand our expertise and resources to have the greatest impact possible. We are flexible, discerning, creative, and ambitious. Most of all, we are open to ideas and to testing new, potentially high-impact, strategies. Much as scientists test and refine hypotheses, we will continue to refine our strategies and/or develop new ones as we gather data.
We are just getting started. Over the next few years, we will catalyze a strategic, worldwide movement away from unreliable animal testing to more effective testing methods that are based on human biology, like organs-on-a-chip, organoids, and 3-D cell cultures.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: We strive to build a strong reputation in the biomedical field with all strategic partners to lead, expand and sustain this movement. Our end goal is to help create a biomedical research paradigm that delivers safe and effective therapies and vaccines faster and more efficiently. We can deliver true hope to patients suffering from currently untreatable diseases, and to their families. We can heal ourselves without harming animals and do so more quickly.
The current pandemic, environmental threats and widespread civil unrest emblematize the need to rethink old conventions and systems and create truly original and daring solutions across a wide range of issues, including the health sciences. This is the time to ignite a movement in the biomedical sciences that captures the best that science has to offer, and in the kindest way possible.
I hope you will imagine yourself as a CCS partner and help CCS bring a transformation in human health.
Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H.
President and CEO
Center for Contemporary Sciences