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Plagues & Medicine

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  • UserProfessor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge
  • ClockFriday 17 January 2014, 17:30-18:30
  • HouseLMH, Lady Mitchell Hall.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Janet Gibson.


Mankind is subject to plagues which affect population health including major demographic changes on a time scale which is unique.

Human reactions to plagues have been many and varied and are dependent upon the prevalent biomedical concept of disease, and a community centred response. Historically this results in measures which can significantly constrain the rights of individuals for the wider community benefit. Increasingly, control measures rely on individual action which in turn raises significant opposition, some of which is often held to be irrational by much of expert opinion.

As we look to future threats this dependence on individual participation will be even more important yet opposition, rational and irrational, can be given disproportionate weighting through modern means of communication. However, the balance of benefit, risk and individual freedom is one that transcends the biomedical and must ultimately have society’s approval if future means of control are to remain effective.


Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz was installed as the 345th Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge on 1 October 2010. The Vice-Chancellor is the principal academic and administrative officer of the University.

Sir Leszek was previously Chief Executive of the UK’s Medical Research Council (2007-10). From 2001 to 2007 he was at Imperial College London, as Principal of the Faculty of Medicine and later as Deputy Rector, responsible for the overall academic and scientific direction of the institution. He led the development of inter-disciplinary research between engineering, physical sciences and biomedicine.

In 1988 he was a Lecturer in Medicine at Cambridge. He went on to be Professor of Medicine at the University of Wales in Cardiff, where he led a research team that carried out pioneering work on vaccines. In particular, his unit in Cardiff conducted clinical trials for a therapeutic vaccine for human papillomavirus (a cause of cervical cancer) – the first in Europe. He was knighted in 2001 for services to medical research and education.

He was a founding Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1996 and a member of its Council from 1997 until 2002; and he became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2008.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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