Michael S. Brown’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1985
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Joe and I were trained as physicians and we still perform clinical duties. Yet, we realized that the understanding of a complex problem such as atherosclerosis requires the tools of basic science. We are fortunate to live at a time when the methods of basic science are so powerful that they can be applied directly to clinical problems. Joe has mentioned the two attributes that are required – basic training and technical courage.
To apply tools of science, physicians must learn to think like scientists. They must acquire technical ability, taste in evaluating experiments, and a sense of creative adventure. Joe and I received such training at the National Institutes of Health – Joe with Marshall Nirenberg, a Nobel laureate, and I with Earl Stadtman, a distinguished biochemist. Joe also studied with Arno Motulsky, a founder of medical genetics. We then joined a clinical department led by Donald Seldin that encouraged physicians to delve into the fundamental basis of disease.
The second attribute is technical courage. The physician-scientist must be brave enough to adopt new methods. It is far too easy to learn one technique and then to repeat the same experiment over and over. In this fashion one can write many papers, receive large research grants, and remain solidly rooted in the middle of a scientific field. But the true innovator has the confidence to drop one set of experimental crutches and leap to another when he or she must move forward.
The two attributes, basic training and technical courage, are intimately related. Fundamental training gives the physician-scientist the technical courage to try new approaches. Strong departments of science must constitute the core of each medical school. The barriers that divide medicine from physiology must be broken down.
Joe and I are honored to accept the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. We hope that this award will be inspirational to young physicians who are trying to acquire the training and develop the boldness necessary to become creators and innovators in medical research.