Kate Chen: Raising Cash, Funding Science and Being Funny
Stem cell research offers new hope for people with multiple sclerosis — and Kate Chen, Associate Director of Gifts and Grants at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, is one woman doing what she can to help some of the top stem cell researchers in the world search for the cure.
Kate was diagnosed with MS at 27, and her mother also lives with the disease. She finds her position at the Institute personally meaningful as she remembers vividly the day her doctor uttered the words, “You have MS."
The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is a new model for university research, Kate said. It tries to move research as quickly as possible from the lab, toward treatments and cures for chronic diseases. MS is difficult to investigate, she added, because there isn’t just one cause — environmental factors, genes, and family history all play a role. And stem cells, as controversial as they may be, are a key new tool for moving forward toward a cure.
“There are very real applications to MS here and I believe it’s incredibly important to support the freedom of researchers to continue to do stem cell research in all of its forms,” Kate said. “It’s a whole new area of science that’s opened. They’re making progress and it’s very exciting.”
The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is philanthropically funded, meaning Kate’s success as a fundraiser is critical to the researchers’ success.
“It’s not cheap research; it’s not holding a bake-sale kind of a thing,” Kate said. “It needs real, significant support.”
Kate also contributes to public awareness about MS with her hilarious, memoir-style blog, Multiple Sclerosis: Devastatingly Funny. With catchy, chapter-style titles like “Dr. Pain” (during which she relives her experiences with a real-life Dr. Payne), “Truck, What Truck?” and “Diagnosis Mother,” Kate humorously describes her experiences with MS, from diagnosis to the success she has had with the disease-modifying drug Tysabri®.
If the blog is received well, Kate plans to turn it into a book.
The blog, her aspirations to publish a book and her position at Harvard all are part of Kate’s personal philosophy that both work and life must serve a higher purpose and be meaningful.
“You can get involved in whatever’s important to you in so many different capacities. I was never good at science, but it turns out that I am not too bad at administration, so I contribute in that way,” she said.
“Even cures require money and paperwork somewhere along the way. Everyone here at the Institute has some personal reason why they decided this is important work to them. It’s a really nice way to work.”
Interviewer Danielle English is a master’s degree candidate in public relations at University of Denver and an avid racquetball player. She volunteers for the National MS Society’s Marketing and Development Department. She was diagnosed with MS in 2002.
Tysabri is a registered trademark of Elan Pharmaceuticals, Inc.