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Remarks of Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, Fourth annual Boston Prostate Cancer Walk

Boston Common, Boston, Mass.

Thank you very much, Stan [Klein]. Thank you very much Jeffrey [Steinberg]. Thank you on behalf of everyone who lives in this area, for everyone who is here today, because this is about something that is very important for this area and very important for all of us.

I want to say a word about what Harvard’s connection with all of this is, and I want to say a word about my own feelings about it.

Within five miles of where we’re standing – if you draw a circle five miles in radius – there is a complex of scientists working to understand cancer and other diseases that is unmatched in the world. You look at the number of scientists, you look at the number who’ve won Nobel Prizes, who’ve won prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, who’ve received federal grants for being outstanding scholars, right here in Boston, within five miles of this point, we have a group that is unmatched around the world.

And that group of scientists, those thousands of life scientists working to understand cells, working to understand the way our bodies work, working to understand what disease does, and working to figure out how to intervene to stop disease, is at the cusp of a period of remarkable progress.

You know, for 200 years, the progress of medical research was the progress of enlightened accident. Fleming fell on a certain mold, and that mold turned out to be penicillin. Others noticed things that were lucky, and great progress came from that.

We are now at a point in history and science where we can attack diseases systematically – when we can systematically understand what it is in our DNA that is linked to the disease, and then once we have that understanding, interfere with it, and provide a cure to that disease. I’m convinced that my children, who are here today, have a very good chance to live to 100 or more because of all that progress.

And I take great pride as president of Harvard, and as a resident of this area, in the fact that the single greatest cluster of contribution to this revolution in the lives of men and women across the world is going to take place right here. And that’s why we in this area, those of us who are part of the Harvard community, have a special obligation and a special connection with the remarkable efforts that we are supporting today. Yes, this will make a difference. Fathers will know their grandchildren who otherwise would never have known their grandchildren because of the research that we are supporting today. That is making a difference.

If I might just conclude with a more personal word, not about prostate cancer, but another form, I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed and successfully treated 20 years ago. There was a time in my life when half an hour didn’t go by without my thinking about cancer, but now I’m like anyone else here, or anyone else – sometimes something happens that makes me think about it, but it is no longer a dominating part of my life in a way that it once was. And there is one reason for that. And that is successful treatment based on successful research. The progress that came along for me came along about 15 years before the time when I was treated.

Let’s all work together to make sure that as much progress comes along in time for as many people as we possibly can. That’s what this is all about. Thank you for being here.