Tag Archives: riverblindness

Entertaining Engineer: Prud’homme


Gathered to hear Bob Prud’homme speak at the Princeton Chamber breakfast was a contingent from Princeton United Methodist Church. In this quickie snap, from left: Bruce Henry, Barbara Fox, Prudhomme in back, Jamileh Gerber in front, Dana Dreibelbis in back, Daniel Shungu in front. Also attending from Princeton UMC: Ed Sproles and Doug Fullman.

Scientific “war stories” were on the agenda today, as Bob Prud’homme entertained members of the Princeton Regional Chamber at the Nassau Club. Some of the twists and turns of his 40-year career at Princeton University revealed good news, some not so good.

In the disheartening category was the realization that, since virtually no drugs are manufactured in the United States, the U.S. stands to lose significant intellectual capital re drug development.

Why? A therapy doesn’t leap from lab to assembly line. It undergoes translation from research to retail in a “pilot” manufacturing plant, where veteran managers and supervisors can keep close tabs on quality control. Until recently the major pharmas built those pilot plants in the U.S., supervised by U.S. managers. If all the pilot plants move overseas, technical managers in the other countries will acquire that extremely valuable expertise.

On the heartening side, Prud’homme says he often finds himself working with research scientists in Asia whom he knows – because they were his students and collaborators at Princeton. Surely this answers any chauvinistic assertions that U.S. schools should limit the number of students from abroad.

IMG_4615In the good news category, Prud’homme and his collaborators get money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop drugs for global health. (UFAR founder Daniel Shungu, seen chatting with Prud’homme before the breakfast, is also the recipient of Gates funds.) What can sell in a blister pack at CVS won’t work for a third world country, which needs drugs to be packaged in jars that will last for six months in a hot damp climate. Princeton’s engineering quad leads the industry in meeting the need for these opportunities in drug delivery.

Only inexpensive drugs can be brought to poor countries. In contrast, cancer therapies are so costly that they can’t be used in the Third World. Prud’homme worries that cancer therapies will even be too expensive for OUR country’s insurance capacity, and that our healthcare business plans are in danger. Either our healthcare insurance will topple, or it will be outrageously unequally distributed, or the people will make decisions about what gets covered and who doesn’t.

One fix would be to deny $60,000 immunotherapy if it won’t prolong life by at last a year. Another way is to adopt the single-payer system used in Australia and make the hard decisions. “I worry about the future of our healthcare system,” says Prud’homme, “and that we will have an unjust society. What problems are we willing to live with?”

Prud’homme memorably described the ins and outs of nanotechnology in clear terms. The challenge for using nano in injectable drugs is that the drug might disperse too quickly, before it reaches the target site. The difficulty with using nano molecules in oral therapies is that many molecules are hydrophobic. They do not live comfortably in water.

His lab, successful in conquering both challenges, has been selected as the “academic lab of choice” by the major pharmas. The story behind that reinforces MY conviction that our town is ever so fortunate to have this university and these research labs at our doorstep.

Many complain that because the university has “deep pockets” it should pay more in lieu of taxes. Exactly because Princeton University has those deep pockets, it can afford to offer generous terms to potential partners. Someone asked how scientists can get molecules through the patent process without revealing secrets to competitors. The answer, says Prud’homme, lies in the university’s motto “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.”

Nobody has approved this metaphor, but here’s how I would explain it. You have five pirates at your door for Trick or Treat, almost identically costumed. One has a face mask, Pirate X. When a big pharma (BASF, GSK, Pfizer, Merck – all Princeton collaborators) wants to secretly develop a molecule, Princeton sends all five to the patent office, revealing the identity of four, leaving one unidentified. This gives the big pharma lead time to develop Molecule X. (Somebody please comment if this comparison doesn’t work.)

Princeton University came late to the entrepreneurial market becauase. as Prud’homme acknowledged, research suitable for the commercial market used to be scorned by the academics. Princeton was one of the most hoity-toity of universities in condemning research that results in a salable product.  He credits the philosophy of John Ritter  (in charge of technology licensing) and the success of two researchers – Steve Forrest and Edward C. Taylor – with changing the university’s attitudes about the inviolable sanctity of basic research. Forrest (now at the University of Michigan) channeled his research on organic light -emitting diodes (OLEDs) into a start-up, Universal Display Corporation that leads the market for displays for smart phones and has revenues of more than $300 million. Taylor developed the cancer-fighting drug, Alimta, and the proceeds from that virtually paid for the university’s new chemistry building.

With its generous endowment, the university does not have to nickel-and-dime its collaborators, and its scientists and engineers can be “in the nation’s service.”

Many a New Day Will Shine — to benefit Congolese charities: Karrin Allyson

KarinAllyson2015_Ingrid_Hertfelder_7Now is the perfect time, says jazz artist Karrin Allyson, to revisit the Rodgers & Hammerstein songbook. Listen to her new album, Many A New Day, click her for a preview video.

See Allyson in person at a benefit concert “Chansons pour le Congo III” at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ),  . The concert, which benefits two Congo-based charities, will be Sunday, September 20, at 3 p.m. at the Mildred & Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing.

“These songs are innocent yet wise, hopeful yet nobody’s fool, calling us ever forward to be decent human beings,” says Allyson, who features Kenny Barron and John Patitucci on “Many a New Day” on the Motema label. “Sadly, the song ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,’  from ‘South Pacific’  (a musical that was written with the intention to fight racism) still resonates all too well today.”

The event is presented by the College of New Jersey, Women and Gender Studies Program, Women in Learning and Leadership and Office of the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences.  Allyson will be accompanied by bass guitarist Ed Howard. A reception to meet the artists will follow the performance.

Tickets (available online here) are $70 for adults, $50 for seniors, and $30 for students, with a discount for TCNJ students.  Sponsorships range from Patron  at $240, including three tickets. to Karrin’s Circle for $1,000 with six tickets. For information  call 609-688-9979.

This will be the third concert that Allyson, a four-time Grammy nominee, has given to benefit the two charities. Founded  by an ecumenical group of Congolese women, Woman, Cradle of Abundance (FEBA) supports a sewing school for girls, medical care for women and children living with HIV/AIDS, counseling for survivors of rape and forced prostitution, and school fees for orphans .

UFAR, founded by PUMC member Dr. Daniel Shungu, is an African-inspired, Lawrenceville-based nonprofit charitable organization that aims, in partnership with other organizations, to eradicate onchocerciasis, a major public health problem in the Kasongo region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Women of the Congo have amazing strength,” says Allyson, “and I only want to help with their goals of a safe and healthy society, freed from diseases like AIDS and riverblindness, and to help the world see that they are FIRST class citizens.”

Amazing African Art in Soiree Auction

3 Luba Shankadi mask

This amazing Luba Shankadi mask will be in a live auction, at the African Soiree to benefit United Front Against Riverblindness. It starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 21 at the Princeton Seminary and includes a buffet of African and international foods, entertainment, and an update from UFAR founder Daniel Shungu.

Anyone may buy items at the African marketplace, from 4:30 on, but you need to be at the dinner to participate in the Kuba art auction. Go to the United Front Against Riverblindness website for $70 tickets.

Other yummy items — this cowry-shell and beaded purse, a whimsica3 cowry shell and bead pursel double-entendre since cowry shells were a form of money. 

Traditional Congolese “Kuba” art was affected by influences from abroad that arrived during the era of colonization, but the individuality and variety of tribal customs has been preserved.

Below left, a modern sculpture. Below right, a museum quality headstand. And the textiles– my photos don’t do them justice so here is a link to a gallery.  Starting prices for the auction range from $100 to $500. If you can’t get there Saturday but want to bid… hmmm, shall I bid for you?

2 Luba Shankadi headrest

10 sculpture

Doing Their Part in Coach Class

A renowned but humble malaria fighter is today’s lead story in the science section of the New York Times.  Unlike many of his NGO peers, Rear Adm. R. Timothy Ziemer flies coach  instead of business and takes meetings with village chiefs as well as with the high-muckety-muck do-gooders.

2014 elsie and danielHis story echoes that of a friend from my church, Daniel Shungu,  founder of the United Front Against Riverblindness.    He dedicated his later years to fight riverblindness and works in a self-effacing but efficient fashion. He left yesterday (in coach, sloughing off concerns for his safety re the Ebola epidemic) for a meeting in Geneva and then for village visits in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He’ll be back in time for Karrin Allyson’s  November 9  “Chansons pour le Congo,” jazz concert fundraiser for UFAR and Women, Cradle of Abundance. (The latter charity is shepherded in this country by Prof. Elsie McKee, shown here with Shungu.)

Also yesterday I heard Don Stryker, facilities director at Princeton Friends School, share news of his daughter, Ella Watson-Stryker. She is in Liberia, on her third trip to West Africa to help with the Ebola epidemic and writes in the Guardian about why she keeps coming back.

 I came back for my colleagues who are tired, heartbroken and angry and need someone to take their place when they are too exhausted to continue. I came back because of the children dying alone in boxes, and for the elders who, having survived war, now watch their communities being consumed by a virus that has no cure. I came back for the patients who survive. And most of all I came back for our Guinean, Sierra Leonean, and Liberian staff who are fighting the long fight with a level of courage and compassion that exceeds anything I have ever seen. If they can keep going for months on end, then I can come back to help them.

Meanwhile a Liberian native, Judy Stryker (no relation), spoke to the United Methodist Women at Princeton United Methodist Church about the charity WOMASSI, and the women are rallying to help her collect health care supplies (rubber gloves, sanitizer, etc) that she personally mails to Liberia.

We each have a part, especially those who fly in coach class.


At the UFAR African Soiree

Here is what Pat Tanner wrote when she attended the African Soiree to benefit the United  Front Against Riverblindness. Thank you, Pat for helping us spread the news.

And here is an account of how the family of the late Peter Meggitt received a very special award.  soiree presentation Hugo Liz TomFrom left: Hugo Meggitt, Liz Meggitt, and the presenter, Rev. Tom Lank.

This statuette of a child leading a blind adult was made by a third-generation sculptor from Burkina Faso. It represents the tragedy of the disease that affects more than just the infected person — and the hope that, with sustained community-based mass treatment, this common depiction of the disease will soon disappear.

The fifth annual African Soiree, held on March 1 at Princeton Theological Seminary, raised $16,000 for UFAR, the African-inspired, Lawrenceville-based nonprofit that aims, in partnership with other organizations, to eliminate and eventually eradicate riverblindness as a major public health and socioeconomic problem in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2010 Peter traveled with a Princeton United Methodist church mission team to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and he made significant contributions to UFAR’s fundraising efforts for the past five years.

Also presented that evening: a certificate showing that a village has been sponsored in Peter’s s name. This sponsorship, which includes a picture of the village chief, keeps the entire village from going blind.

More than one-third of the 60 million people in the DRC are at risk for contracting riverblindness, according to Dr. Daniel Shungu, UFAR founder.

Photo by Robin Birkel.

African Adventure: March 1 UFAR Menu

Too many cooks won’t spoil the broth on Saturday, March 1, at the African Soiree to benefit United Front Against Riverblindness. Along with listening to folktales, shopping in an African market, and bidding on auction items,  Soiree guests will enjoy a feast prepared by two dozen cooks and chefs from two restaurants: Makeda and Palace of Asia.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo:2014 soiree buffet 2013

  • Cassava/manioc
  • Bitekuteku
  • Pondue
  • Fufu
  • Goat a’la Congolaise
  • Chicken moamba
  • Banana snack
  • Makayabo/fish & collards,
  • Sliced mangoes and pineapple

From Ethiopa: injero, shero wat  and doro wat (chicken stew)

From South Africa: oxtail casserole and chicken birnanyi

From Sierra Leone, Bean patties and fritters ‘Oleleh and Akara Balls’

From India: Samosa, meatballs, and goat

And for less adventurous appetites: chicken fingers, Chinese fried rice, green salad, tetrazzini, and barbecue wings.

2014 soiree table 2013

The African Soiree is 5 to 8 p.m. at the Mackay Center of Princeton Theological Seminary. Tickets at $60 ($30 for kids and students) are still available by contacting event chair Susan Lidstone at UFAR@PrincetonUMC.org or 609-688-9979. Offstreet parking is free.

“We welcome the community to the fifth annual Soiree,” says UFAR founder Dr. Daniel Shungu. “As we enjoy the entertainment and the delicious African meal, we will enable UFAR to keep an entire village from going blind.” He will present a special award to the family of the late Peter Meggitt, a UFAR supporter who traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo with a Princeton United Methodist Church mission team.

Photos by Robin Birkel

African Soiree Auction: “Ballerinas”

This painting by Rhinold Lamar Ponder is one of the items to be auctioned at the auction for the African Soiree, held at the Princeton Theological Seminary Mackay Center on Saturday, March 1, 5 to 8 p.m. It will benefit the United Front Against Riverblindness (www.riverblindness.org). For tickets,  UFAR@princetonumc.org or call 609-688-9979.

Michele Tuck-Ponder, a member of the mission team from Princeton United Methodist church, will call the live auction of items. In the auction are also a framed needlepoint picture yby Susan Lidstone, specially designed copper bracelet from Randi Forman of Nassau Street-based Forest Jewelers, a needlepoint picture, a quilt that Tuck-Ponder made from African fabric. Aruna Arya, owner of the Palmer Square-based fashion store Zastra , will donate one of her designs. Elsie McKee will contribute items made by a Congo-based charity, Woman, Cradle of Abundance. A professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and a member of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, McKee is in charge of local arrangements and the African market.  

More than one-third of the 60 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk for getting riverblindness. Caused by a parasite and transmitted by the black flies that live near the river, the disease takes two lives – the life of the adult who goes blind, and of the sighted child who must leave school to be the caretaker. The medicine is provided free by Merck & Co., but the distribution is a challenge. Using a community-directed approach that involves villagers who are appointed by their village chief, UFAR is able to treat more than two million persons each year. Annual treatment for each person in required for ten years to eliminate the disease.

UFAR is an African-inspired, Lawrenceville-based nonprofit charitable organization that aims, in partnership with other organizations, to eradicate onchocerciasis, a major public health problem in the Kasongo region of the DRC (riverblindness.org).

Quilting for UFAR

2014 michele Scott 2

This gorgeous quilt, sewn with African fabrics by Michele Tuck-Ponder (shown here with Scott Langdon), will be auctioned at the fifth annual UFAR African Soiree on Saturday, March 1, 5 to 8 p.m., at Princeton Theological Seminary’s Mackay Center.

To benefit the United Front Against Riverblindness, it will include a buffet of international and African food, folk tales told by actor Scott Langdon and UFAR founder Daniel Shungu, a showing of African fashions, and an African marketplace. Tickets are just $60 ($30 for students). Call 609-688-9979 or email UFAR@PrincetonUMC.org.

The king-sized quilt features Adinkra symbols native to western Africa.The symbols, hand stamped by the quilter during a visit to Africa, give a unique spin to the traditional log cabin block design. Many of the fabrics were purchased in Africa and supplemented by fabrics from the quilter’s own collection. The quilt is made in shades of purple, orange and green with tan and brown borders. Professionally quilted in a Greek Key design. The estimated retail value of the quilt is $750.00.

A former mayor of Princeton Township, Tuck-Ponder not only made the quilt, but will call the live auction, which will also include a specially designed copper bracelet from Randi Forman of Nassau Street-based Forest Jewelers, and a scarf designed by Aruna Arya, owner of the Palmer Square-based fashion store Zastra, and a painting by Rhinold Ponder.

A special award will be presented to the family of the late Peter Meggitt, a UFAR supporter and Princeton resident who traveled with the mission team.

More than one-third of the 60 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk for getting riverblindness but UFAR is able to treat more than two million persons each year.