Thank You, Jerry Lewis
The cover story of the new Tufts Medicine magazine, “The Hunt for Hope in the Genome,” is about a team of researchers—including Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco and Harvard geneticist Louis Kunkel—who combed through millions of DNA letters three decades ago to find the flawed gene responsible for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Their discovery led to the first-ever FDA-approved drug for treating the deadly disease.
Partly to thank for this groundbreaking work? Jerry Lewis. The late, legendary comedian—who died on August 20 at age 91—raised billions as the longtime national chairman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), the organization that funded Monaco and Kunkel’s research.
“This funding supported the MDA clinics, which provide excellent care for patients and their families, as well as basic and clinical research on neuromuscular diseases,” Monaco said, as he reflected on Lewis recently. “It was at the MDA clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston, where I became part of the clinical care team and collected DNA samples from patients and their families for our genetics research—which led to identification of the gene.”
Monaco also recalled how Kunkel, two research technicians, and he met Lewis at the MDA headquarters in New York City after their 1986 breakthrough. “I had grown up seeing Jerry in movies and on TV for the annual Labor Day MDA Telethon,” Monaco said. “It was quite exciting to meet him in person; it was a celebratory and fun occasion for all of us.”
“I was introduced to him as the student who found the gene,” he added, “and Jerry asked how old I was. When I said 25 years old, he replied, ‘I have ties older than that!’”