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Just Symposium marks 10th year milestone

Dr. Sidney McNairy Jr.

There are those life-changing moments that come that forever mark a person. For Dr. Sidney A. McNairy Jr., of the National Institutes of Health, one of those moments came when he was bogged down in his graduate studies, but got an opportunity to go to the Mall in Washington, D.C., to hear a speech.
The speech was by Martin Luther King, Jr. with the theme “I Have a Dream.”
It was a moment when McNairy, who was pursuing his doctorate in biochemistry at Purdue University and juggling courses in everything from biochemistry and organic chemistry to endocrinology  and human physiology, grasped the broader meaning of his studies. It’s one reason why he will be speaking on the topic, “Science for the Sake of Science or Humanity,” at MUSC’s 10th Annual Ernest E. Just Symposium Feb. 26.
“I selected the subject of my presentation for the budding scientists so that they will be awakened to the fact that science has a role greater than simple discoveries, but has equally as important a role in the betterment of mankind.”
Co-organizer of the symposium Titus Reaves, Ph.D., said MUSC is commemorating this being the 10th year milestone of the event by featuring McNairy as its first Ernest Just lecturer. Reaves, assistant professor in the department of cell biology and anatomy, said he has enjoyed seeing the growth of the event and watching its impact on the university. The first symposium was attended by 15 to 20 students, as compared to 185 last year. He’s expecting even more this year.
The symposium serves to celebrate the scientific accomplishments of Just, Ph.D., a pioneering African-American scholar, setting his life’s experiences as a role model for students. The symposium attracts the top scientists, who present their research related to Just’s work. It also helps to recruit students to one of the university’s six colleges of graduate medical education, said Reaves.
“We are beginning to see students accepted into our university as a result of the Ernest Just Symposium. Over the last few years, we have had scientists at the top of their respective areas and undergraduate students from the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Maryland.”
McNairy, Ph.D., and D.Sc., said the symposium is important in that it stresses the life and legacy of Just, a scientist whose research in marine biology made him one of the giants in developmental biology.
“One of the greatest challenges that we must always face as a nation is diversity or inclusion of all Americans,” said McNairy. “A prime example as to why we must is the life and legacy that Ernest Just left for us. Even from very difficult circumstances during a very challenging period for African- Americans in American history, he rose far above his humble beginnings in South Carolina. Having had to leave South Carolina to seek an education in New Hampshire, Dartmouth University and the University of Chicago, he left his mark on developmental biology as the father of parthenogenesis.”
McNairy is leaving his own legacy.
The associate director for  research infrastructure for the National Center for Research Resources began his career as a professor of biochemistry  and  a visiting scientist at several pharmaceutical companies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said he knew that his life’s journey would take him to a place where he could implement a philosophy whose mission was to evolve new knowledge for the betterment of mankind. In 1974 that came to pass as he began his federal career as a health scientist administrator at the National Institutes of Health. He went on to become a driving force behind the success of a number of innovative federal grant programs that have helped strengthen biomedical research infrastructure at universities and colleges, as well as research foundations throughout the nation.
McNairy said that during his career he has seen a number of seminal discoveries, two of which stand out—the alpha helix and the mapping of the human genome.
 “I, like others, may have thought the latter was indeed the ‘holy grail,’ only to be met with the fact that the mapping of the human genome was simply opening the door to many scientific questions and challenges. The challenges that the biomedical scientists now face are even greater than before. Mapping of the human genome has made it clear that personalized medicine is very much within research, even though it is much in its infancy. To accomplish this, biomedical sciences must embrace all disciplines.”
For information on other speakers, visit For information on Just’s biography, visit

Friday, Feb. 26, 2010

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