The Academy's Network Takes on Global Challenges

The Academy's Network Takes on Global Challenges

From malnutrition to diseases of dementia, the Academy is creating innovative alliances that will lead to new knowledge and solutions.

As you peruse this issue, Dr. Mandana Arabi, founding director of The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences, and her team will be putting the finishing touches on a series of white papers designed to create a roadmap for one of the world's greatest challenges: improving the nutrition of our citizenry.

As you may know, more than 3 billion people are currently suffering from under- and over-nutrition. Malnutrition is not an isolated problem—it's the underlying cause of many of society's major health problems, including stunted growth, chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and some forms of cancer and cognitive defects.

And yet we know precious little about the effects of nutrition on pregnant mothers and their babies, on the biomarkers for malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, on the interaction of infants' bodies and their microbiomes, and so on.

Our mission presses us to "promote the resolution of society's global challenges through science-based solutions."

So it's clear that Mandana's charge—that of creating consensus on a global nutrition science research agenda—is of extraordinary importance. While Mandana is a highly respected expert in nutrition with a decade's experience improving nutrition in places like the Middle East, Africa, and Central and South America, this challenge will take a village. It is for this reason that Mandana, through The Sackler Institute, is coordinating an unprecedented network of more than 80 of the world's leading researchers and public health officials from more than 50 institutions—academic, industry and government—on six continents.

This remarkable community of experts has come together without compensation in three working groups, meeting over 1½ years to hammer out a consensus on what the highest impact challenges would be, which, if solved, could transform the health of this planet.

On December 17–18, the world will be attentive when The Sackler Institute holds an extraordinary conference to announce the results of the many months of work by its unprecedented network of volunteers. The work, however, will just be beginning.

Once the research agenda is unveiled, the immediate question will be: How can the world best address these gaps in knowledge? The pressure will immediately emerge to raise funding, incentivize the formation of public/private partnerships, and catalyze a combination of studies and on-the-ground proof-of-concept projects to begin to turn around the deteriorating health of our planet.

If your Academy were simply one of the multinational consulting companies, we would issue our report and move on to the next study. But we are not. Our mission presses us to "promote the resolution of society's global challenges through science-based solutions." In order to achieve this goal, we must convert our network of partners from an analytical alliance to a partnership for progress through implementation. We are doing this in the area of nutrition science and beyond.

In 2013, the Academy will be leading alliances in nutrition, Alzheimer's and the diseases of dementia, and perhaps in vaccine development as well. Moreover, we will be transforming STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning through the scaling up of our New York-based afterschool program that places hundreds of volunteer young scientists in the most underserved areas of our city to mentor and inspire middle school kids through hands-on-science.

These and other new programs are taking your Academy beyond the boundaries of convening people in hopes that we can create alliances that will lead to new knowledge and solutions. These efforts constitute our greatest challenge yet. And we will only succeed if we continue to be supported by the greatest group of passionate and innovative minds on the planet.

Those of you who read these columns will recall previous articles on the networks of experts who have joined us to advise the Mayor of Mexico City on how to transform his society into a "knowledge-based" economy. You will also recall hearing about the networks that came together, first for President Medvedev of Russia, and now for Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia and Her Highness Sheikha Mozah of Qatar, all with similar goals.

And now the networks are coming together to drive public/private partnerships that are global from the get-go. These networks are people, members of our Academy, and our greatest supporters. Through our work, we honor them and all of you. Thank you for being a part of an organization that believes that science can solve many of our most pressing global problems, if we just work together.

signature

Ellis Rubinstein
President & CEO