Research Projects:

History of Molecular Biology

The early history of molecular biology is embedded in the work of physicists who applied concepts from physics to biological systems. One major aspect of this early work was the development of the target theory. The detailed history of the origins of the target theory has been reconstructed from the published literature and from archival material. The next phase of this project will examine the formation and influences of the American Phage Group. This material will form some of the background against which the larger history of molecular biology will be placed.

Geopolitics of Epidemic Infectious Disease in South East Asia

Diseases that transcend local populations challenge both governments and health workers, and nowhere are these challenges more evident yet more complex than in Southeast Asia, a region mostly comprised of the ASEAN group of nations.  The countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) represent a geographically-linked but remarkably diverse group of peoples.  These nations (Brunei Darussalem; Cambodia; Indonesia; Lao Peoples Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Myanmar; Philippines; Singapore; Thailand; and Viet Nam) are diverse politically, economically, culturally, and religiously. 

Since its founding in 1967, the ASEAN nations have confronted two major infectious illnesses that presented novel challenges to their political leaders as well as to their health care systems. These infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS and SARS, will be the focus of this project and will serve as “case studies” for the more general principles in the interplay of politics, disease, medical science, and globalization.

SARS and HIV/AIDS are significantly different in their impact, modes of transmission, cultural meanings, and basic biology so that they provide complementary perspectives on the overall aims of this project.   The SARS epidemic (2002-2003) represents an acute, but eventually limited, epidemic in which the material risks were significantly different from the perceived risks for various important reasons.  By contrast, HIV/AIDS is now considered a pandemic, or even an endemic disease, which has become, in some ways, a chronic disease problem.    The ASEAN nations are not only diverse in their political, cultural and social structures, but interestingly, they are also differ significantly in the incidences and prevalences of HIV infection and their responses to epidemic infectious diseases in general.  Some scholars suggest, for instance, that the spread of HIV from Thailand to Myanmar is a direct consequence of a coordinated regional response.   The estimated prevalence of HIV infections in this region varies about 20 fold between the most severely affected countries, Thailand and Myanmar, and the low prevalence countries such as Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore.  Contextual factors such as tourism, drug use, and prostitution vary widely in this region and are thought to be important policy and public health considerations.

Most of the work of ASEAN in regional and global terms has focused on economic cooperation and trade issues.  Only recently have other issues such as migration, environmental problems and to a very minor extent, public health, been recognized by the ASEAN governments.  By contrast, both local and international NGOs have been more active in addressing these other problems. Scholarship on the regional and world-wide context of ASEAN projects and interactions has been almost exclusively on economic policies and practices.  There is almost no scholarly literature on HIV/AIDS policy or public health work in the ASEAN countries.  This projects is undertaking an analysis of the geopolitics of epidemic infectious diseases (mainly SARS and HIV/AIDS) in the recent past (approximately 1990-2010) in the ASEAN context.  This study incorporates the diversity of cultural and political factors exhibited in the ASEAN region as well as the medical, scientific and economic inputs that promote or constrain actions of governments, populations, and the larger international community.   My approach is to analyze individual government’s positions, the official ASEAN records and pronouncements, the records of meeting, workshops, and individuals, and the interactions with the WHO, other international agencies, and both local and international NGOs working in the ASEAN countries.  My analysis and understanding of the complexities of regional reactions to, planning for, and impact of, epidemic diseases will contribute to the improvement of both regional and local health planning and preparedness as well as helping NGOs identify and target areas of need and potential problems based on past lessons.