Vol. LXVII No. 3 — March 1989
THE MASONIC MEDICAL RESEARCH LABORATORY
RW. and Dr. Charles Antzelevitch
Director of Development and Communication
Freemasonry can and should be proud of its charitable good works. Many of our concordant bodies support specific projects. Shriners heal crippled children and give new life to burns victims through support of the Shrine Crippled Children's Hospitals and Burn Units. The Northern Jurisdiction of Scottish Rite has long made Schizophrenia Research its major charitable activity while the Southern Jurisdiction supports two hospitals and sponsors an Aphasia Program geared to help children with language disorders. Knights Templars support an Eye Foundation and Royal Arch Masons nationwide contribute to research into auditory perception disorders in children. The list goes on and on.
Helping crippled children walk, retuming speechless children to society or giving the gift of sight through cornea transplant surgery are not medical miracles. They represent the culmination of numerous basic research studies which pieced together provide the foundation for major advances in medicine. Antibiotics, pacemakers, and organ transplants have greatly improved our quality of life. All of these life saving and health improving advances have become a reality because of basic biomedical research.
Basic research in the biomedical sciences involves fundamental studies into life processes where the major goal is to obtain an understanding of living organisms. This is the purest form of research which strives to provide the most complete understanding of the function of cells, tissues and organs in both normal and diseased states.
Today doctors replace whole organs, vaporize tumors with lasers, create test tube babies and clone genes. Scientists and doctors have just begun to treat obstructed arteries with drugs, lasers and angioplasty. These technological advances may make coronary bypass surgery obsolete by the 21st century. Many kidney and other organ transplants performed today would not be possible were it not for the anti-rejection drug cyclosporin, developed as a result of basic research conducted on a fungus from the soils of Norway. Open heart surgery would not be possible today without the thousands of discoveries provided through basic research into how blood clots, how the heart beats, or how antibiotics combat infection.
The beauty of basic research is that it goes where no man has gone before, the uncharted frontier of medical science. Scientific breakthroughs occur everyday in laboratories all over the world, some go unnoticed while others receive much acclaim. Every experiment provides answers or pieces of a puzzle which, when finally assembled, provide the foundation for treatments and cures. This is the type of research conducted at the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory in Utica, New York.
The Masonic Medical Research Laboratory's history dates back to 1947 when the Grand Lodge of New York under the leadership of Grand Master Gay H. Brown created the Masonic Foundation for Medical Research and Human Welfare. In its early years the foundation allocated nearly $1.5 million to research programs dedicated to the elimination of rheumatic fever.
In 1954, M. W. Raymond C. Ellis, during his term as Grand Master, conceived the idea of a medical research laboratory supported by the Craft. Dedicated to basic research the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory would embody the very essence of the Fraternity's charitable good work. In June of 1958, Raymond C. Ellis' dream became a reality.
Since its founding, the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory has gained intemational prominence as a medical institute, especially in the area of heart disease. Over the past 30 years, it has earned a reputation as one of the finest biomedical research institutes of its size worldwide.
The Laboratory's largest research program deals with the problem of heart disease, especially as it applies to abnormal heart rhythms, known as cardiac arrhythmias. Experimental cardiologists at the Laboratory have contributed importantly to delineation and discovery of a number of mechanisms that contribute to life threatening disturbances of heart rhythm. Most recently, they have demonstrated major differences in the electrical activity of the inside and outside muscle of the heart, (ventriclar endocardium and epicardium), a finding that may enhance our understanding of some forms of cardiac arrhythmias and a number of previously unexplained phenomena observed in the ECG of patients. These findings also help to explain the different sensitivities of the inside and outside muscle of the heart to ischemic injury as occurs during a heart attack. Moreover, these studies have shown for the first time that medications may exert very different effects on these two types of heart tissue, thus opening the door for a new line of pharmacological investigation.
Recently initiated studies by scientists in our Cancer Program may help explain the primary cause of atherosclerosis and the role of fish oils in preventing lesions in the arteries. This disease is responsible for most deaths due to coronary and other artery disease (ex. heart attack and stroke). Recent studies suggest arteriosclerosis, a major killer of Americans, may in fact be a form of tumor that affects the lining of arteries, although the initiation and progression of the disease is clearly influenced by other factors, including hypertension, cholesterol and fats.
These researchers have also shown that benzo(a)pyrene, a common environmental pollutant and a carcinogenic component of cigarette smoke, can contribute to atherosclerosis leading to stroke and heart attack.
Researchers in the Hypertension Program have recently embarked into immunological investigation as to the cause of hypertension. There appears growing evidence that the immune system may contribute to the disease. Recent studies suggest that in some cases the body may be treating its own blood vessels as foreign material and initiating a chronic allergic reaction to them. This type of autoimmunity may explain some characteristics of hypertension.Scientists in the Gerontology Program are currently investigating the accumulation of cadmium, iron, and aluminum in the body as a function of age. They have demonstrated large accumulations of these metal ions with advancing age.
Cadmium is known to be associated with cancer formation and high blood pressure. Research has shown that excess iron may cause anemia rather than reduce it. Aluminum has been suspected to be linked to Alzheimer's in animals; the findings are not definitive with respect to humans. Aluminum has also been linked to osteopc-rosis or brittle bones, a common affliction of the elderly. Research continues to find a way to neutralize the effects of these substances in the body.
Fear of AIDS and the misconceptions about the disease continue to affect dwindling blood supplies and have heightened the need for a blood substitute. Investigations at the Laboratory are working to develop a blood substitute that will have all the properties of a plasma expander but will also be capable of transporting oxygen. This substitute consists of hemoglobin extracted from blood and subsequently complexed with starch. This technique produces a freeze-dried product which can be reconstituted by adding water. It is designed to be free of infectious agents such as AIDS and hepatitis viruses, will not have to be blood typed and will have a shelf life of several years. Application of this blood substitute could improve memory, drug effectiveness and oxygen transport in the elderly. More importantly, this development could lead to personalized freeze dried blood.
How different our lives would be if men like Pasteur, Fleming, Salk or Barnard, to cite just a few examples, had not dedicated themselves to science or had not been provided the resources to carry out their work. Today pasteurization, penicillin, the polio vaccine and open heart surgery are taken for granted. Smallpox, polio, pneumonia, rheumatic fever and a long list of other diseases are no longer the terrible cripplers and killers they once were. Biomedical research has made these advances possible.
Just as the carved stones that comprise the cathedrals of Europe represent the proud past of Operative Masonry, the charitable good works of Speculative Masonry provide our legacy for the future. Each in their own way radiate the Light of Masonry around the globe. Our Masonic heritage beckons us to leave this world a better place than we found it. What better way for the Craft to accomplish this goal than through the support of "MASONRY'S WINDOWS TO THE WORLD".
For further information, please write to:
Masonic Medical Research Laboratory
2150 Bleecker St.
Utica, NY 13501 1787