Dr. Martin Bednar, a lead Alzheimer’s disease researcher for Pfizer, regularly travels more than 100 miles for work from his home in southwestern Connecticut to Cambridge, Mass. With a background in neurosurgery and clinical drug development for Pfizer, Bednar lends his expertise to many pressing issues in medical science, including the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and the role of adult stem cells in regenerative medicine. A member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, Bednar, 59, spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
How would you describe your role at Pfizer?
I like to think of myself as a problem creator. There are problem solvers who have a problem and find a solution, and then there are problem creators who find problems and new solutions. I try to bring some novel yet pragmatic approaches to the diseases that we’re studying, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Is a cure for Alzheimer’s disease within sight?
That’s a major thrust of my research. We’re looking into various investigational drugs right now that may remarkably impact Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a fatal and cruel disease, and one that is increasing steadily as well. At the same time, we in the field are optimistic that our knowledge basis is increasing to a point where we’re encouraged by some of the medications that we’re trying now on individuals with Alzheimer’s. The government has an initiative to try to cure Alzheimer’s — or at least make a big impact on it by 2025. I’m hopeful that collectively as an industry the pharmaceutical companies will have some sort of a therapy by then that will greatly improve the lives of individuals and get us working toward a cure.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in medicine?
Probably very early on, maybe even in grammar school, I thought I was going to have a career in medicine. It wasn’t until late in my medical training that I decided to actually pursue a career in neurosurgery.
You attended two Vatican conferences on adult stem cells in regenerative medicine. What did you take away from those gatherings?
It showed a few things about our faith, our popes, and the commitment of Catholicism in general to ensuring that we get the word out there about the appropriate use of medical therapies, focusing on adult stem cells, for example. Besides the ethical and moral issues of human embryonic stem cells, from a scientific standpoint there is nothing you can’t do with an adult stem cell, yet that pales in comparison to a human embryonic stem cell. We live in a world where not everyone shares the ethics, the morals that we do — and the respect for human life. We’re facing issues that have never been faced before, with little ability to understand what we’re doing. The pace of science has outstripped our ability to really carefully understand the moral and ethical obligations that we have.
You’ve written three children’s books on the struggles and triumphs of Sandy Cat. Where did the idea come from?
They’re based on a true-life story about a cat we had at one point, a poor abandoned kitty and his journey. The first book is about Sandy having the vision to teach children how to persevere in the face of adversity. The second book teaches children to dream the noblest dream of all, and that is to help other people. The third book was to encourage kids to give the gift of time to their family and their friends. It’s a trilogy of books, each with a different theme, but I think each of the themes are important ones we’re supposed to teach our kids — and adults as well.
How has joining Legatus impacted your spiritual journey?
Since joining Legatus a year-and-a-half ago, my wife Arlean and I have learned a lot more about our faith. Finding out about the members’ devotion to Mary has brought me even closer to her. My faith is definitely reinforced by the wonderful people at Legatus. They’re just a very welcoming family. We look forward to our monthly meetings. It’s a wonderful experience.