From Ebola Researchers, An Anthem of Hope
Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins
After watching this music video, you might wonder what on earth it has to do with biomedical science, let alone Ebola research. The answer is everything.
This powerful song, entitled “One Truth,” is dedicated to all of the brave researchers, healthcare workers, and others who have put their lives on the line to save people during the recent outbreak of Ebola virus disease. What’s more, it was written and performed by seven amazing scientists—one from the United States and six from West Africa.
The song’s main composer Pardis Sabeti, MD, DPhil, an NIH-funded New Innovator at the Broad Institute of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, is a leading expert on using genomic data to uncover clues about the origin and evolution of emerging viruses, including Ebola. The African researchers singing along with Sabeti came to Boston this summer to learn Ebola surveillance methods—training made possible by the Human Health and Heredity in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative in which NIH is a partner. These scientists are now back in their home nations of Nigeria and Senegal, working hard to help fight this deadly disease.
But that’s not the only connection this song has to Ebola. Sabeti and her research team had been doing research on Lassa fever in West Africa for some time. When Ebola made its appearance in Sierra Leone this year, Sabeti turned her attention to the outbreak, using genomic sequencing to track the spread of the disease. Working with her friend and colleague, Sheik Humarr Khan of the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, more than 70 samples from infected patients were obtained and sequenced, documenting the viral mutation rate and ultimately proving that the outbreak could be traced to an individual who died of Ebola in Guinea in December 2013.
Then, in July, Khan fell ill. Despite taking extreme precautions while caring for sick and dying patients with Ebola, he had been infected by the virus. When Sabeti received the devastating news, she turned to music to express her fear, hope, and, above all, admiration for Khan. For Sabeti, this came naturally: in her spare time, she is the lead singer and songwriter for the indie rock band Thousand Days. Sabeti had hoped to sing “One Truth” to Khan in a few weeks when he came to Boston to collaborate on a new program, but that visit never happened—Ebola virus disease claimed his life.
In memory of Khan and four other dedicated research colleagues in Africa who died from Ebola while tending to the needs of others, Sabeti and her bandmates have this message for all who watch their music video: “We hope that we let our world not be defined by destruction of one virus, but illuminated by billions of hearts and minds together ‘in this fight always.’”
A lot more folks need to hear that message, so I urge you to share this video with others and maybe even try singing along. In fact, I did just that earlier this week, when I had the opportunity to invite Sabeti and her band to join me at the end of this year’s Compton Lecture at MIT. To help you follow along, we’ve added the lyrics to the video.
Video: “Exceptional Opportunities in Biomedical Research.” Francis S. Collins, Compton Lecture, 28 October 2014. MIT
“The Ebola Wars: How Genomics Research Can Help Contain the Outbreak.” Richard Preston, The New Yorker. 27 October 2014.