Lessons from a One-Eyed Surgeon

Date & Time

Wed, 10/02/2013
5:30 – 7:00 pm


This program is the first in a series of 2013-2014 programs with a focus on cancer, particularly as seen through the lens of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book The Emperor of All Maladies.

We begin with a look back to the power of collaboration in meeting the challenge of cancer. Half a century ago, and half a world away, a man named Denis Burkitt undertook one of the greatest epidemiological investigations in history, identifying who was getting a strange and aggressive “childhood” cancer—and why. Burkitt, working out of a small hospital in Uganda, brought together investigators from all over the world in his quest to understand the “African lymphoma”—and together, they unraveled a cancer mystery that no single researcher would ever have solved on his or her own. In the end, Burkitt and his team not only saved an untold number of young lives, but also taught the world how powerful true scientific collaboration can be.

The story of Denis Burkitt’s quest, though, is also a lesson in the ethics of scientific urgency. Burkitt believed that it was his ethical imperative to do his best to speed the discovery of the causes (and potential cures) of the mysterious African lymphoma—and, arguably, it was this moral drive that enabled him to make breakneck and transformational progress.


To view a recording of this event, please click here.


Clifton Leaf
Contributing Editor at Fortune and author of The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer—and How to Win It

Clifton Leaf, a contributing editor at Fortune magazine, is the author of The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer—and How to Win It, published by Simon & Schuster this summer. A winner of the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism and a two-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, Cliff was until recently a guest editor for The New York Times op-ed page and Sunday Review. Previously, he was executive editor at The Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney magazine and, prior to that, executive editor at Fortune, where he also wrote a number of prominent feature articles.

It was after one such writing assignment, a 2004 Fortune cover story entitled “Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer (and How to Win It)”, that Cliff began working to change the way the global cancer fight is funded and pursued, pushing for ways to speed up progress against the disease. A keynote or featured speaker at some 30 scientific conferences around the world, Cliff has presented testimony to the President’s Cancer Panel three times, given a plenary address at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research and delivered “Grand Rounds” at the National Cancer Institute.

A recipient of the Henry R. Luce Award for public service, the NIHCM’s Health Care Journalism Award and several leadership awards from leading patient organizations, Cliff has been a moderator or panelist in numerous cancer-related meetings, including three Capitol Hill briefings for members of Congress. For three years, he also served on the national board of directors for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer charity.

Prior to joining Fortune in 2000, Cliff was an editor and writer for a number of national magazines. A graduate of Williams College, he later received a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.