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Reflections of a multimedia producer: When a researcher’s passion for scientific advancement becomes contagious

As the Academic Health Center’s multimedia producer I get the opportunity to work with many talented and brilliant researchers.  Sometimes, the creativity and passion of these physicians and scientists literally blows you away. John Ohlfest, Ph.D., was one of those people. I was deeply saddened to hear about the loss of John last week; he was one of the most dedicated, passionate and genuinely nice researchers I’ve ever met during my time with the AHC.

I was introduced to John just two months into my current job, when I was still pretty green and new to the biomedical research industry. We had scheduled a meeting in his lab to talk about his desire to produce a video around upcoming research that he was pretty excited about.

When I arrived at his office, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was expecting a gray-haired professor, perhaps with thick rimmed glasses and the academic air that comes from decades at an institution of higher learning. But here was this young guy – just a little older than I was – with no thick glasses or gray hair, just a lot of energy.

Throughout the meeting, we talked about his work, what it might someday accomplish and his partnership with College of Veterinary Medicine expert Elizabeth Pluhar, D.V.M., Ph.D.  We talked about what they wanted to convey through this video: the promise of a new type of treatment that he’d literally pioneered and how it could someday revolutionize how we treat gliomas, a certain type of brain tumor. He seemed genuinely thankful that our office was so eager to help him tell that story.

It was a great conversation, every word of which I wrote down and little of which I understood. Thankfully, John was patient with me. But that’s who he was.  He wanted to share his excitement of science and could translate it to anyone. It’s no wonder he was a leader in translational research.

“This is my job?” I thought as I left his office. “I get to make videos about the kind of science that will literally change modern medicine?” I was a film major in college and not once did I think the word “glioma” was going to enter into my vocabulary. I remember walking away from that experience with newly discovered excitement for scientific research, energized by the possibilities.

A few months later, we reconvened at a scheduled MRI of one of his most famous patients: “Batman,” a shepard-mix canine and the first patient to undergo the therapy John had designed.  John and Liz were going to see if Batman’s brain tumor treatment was making any progress, six months post-op.

I was filming that day, hoping to catch their first reactions.  What I saw still gives me chills.

Watching them receive proof that their treatment approach was really something special.

So thank you, John.  It was an honor to have met you.  Your passion for scientific advancement helped ignite an excitement in me that I hope has translated to our audience over the last three years.

Editor’s note: you can watch the full video “The Canine Connection to Fighting Cancer” below.

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