Dr. Rhonda Kost and Dr. Sarah J. Schlesinger Join Deb Laufer to Discuss INFORMED CONSENT with the Audience on August 27

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In the third of five Thursday Night Talkbacks, Dr. Rhonda Kost, Director of Clinical Research Support, Rockefeller University, and Dr. Sarah J. Schlesinger, Associate Professor of Clinical Investigation, Senior Attending Physician, Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, Rockefeller University, will be joining playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer for a lively talkback about Work/Life Issues for Women in Science, the Ethics of Human Research, and INFORMED CONSENT following the play’s August 27 performance at The Duke on 42nd Street.  

Dr. Rhonda Kost directs the Clinical Research Support Office at the Rockefeller University Center for Clinical and Translational Science, providing education, training, regulatory oversight, research subject advocacy, a recruitment services core, community engagement support, and integration of research support for investigators and research teams.  Her research interests include the development of validated outcome measures for human protection practices, and data-driven process improvement in clinical research, particularly in recruitment.  She led a multi-phase 15-center collaborative project with the Clinical Center at NIH, National Research Council Picker, and 13 CTSAs (Clinical and Translational Science Awards) to develop participant-centered measures of the research participant experience to enhance clinical research management and human subject protections. She has also published on the additional human subject protection considerations that arise when designing community-engaged research.  Nationally she led the CTSA Regulatory Support Key Function Committee for 3 years, and several taskforces focused on recruitment, retention, and research participant advocacy.  At Rockefeller, she serves on the Institutional Review Board, and the Advisory Committee to the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at Rockefeller University.

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Dr. Sarah J. Schlesinger leads the clinical development of vaccines that target HIV and immunotherapies to treat other conditions, including cancer. Formally a member of the Steinman laboratory and now working with Michel C. Nussenzweig and Jeffrey V. Ravetch, she is interested in the clinical manipulation of the immune system’s dendritic cells to elicit immunity to diseases ranging from HIV to cancer. Although much research has been conducted in mice, the causes of human disease can differ considerably. Dr. Schlesinger is directing phase I clinical studies that employ the methods of immunology and dendritic cell biology, in which patients set the standards needed to understand diseases and treatments.

Dr. Schlesinger has been involved in the clinical trials of eight HIV vaccines and vaccine adjuvants. She is now conducting the first HIV vaccine trial based on dendritic cells, which were discovered at Rockefeller in 1973 by Ralph Steinman and his mentor, Zanvil Cohn.

In addition to leading clinical trials, Dr. Schlesinger chairs the research education and training committee of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at The Rockefeller University Hospital. She is also codirector of the Clinical Scholars program and the Certificate in Clinical and Translational Sciences program and is a member of The Rockefeller University Institutional Review Board.


Deborah Zoe Laufer’s plays have been produced at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Geva Theatre Center, Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, ATL’s Humana Festival, Portland Stage, and seventy other theaters around the country, in Germany, and in Russia. End Days was awarded The ATCA Steinberg citation and appeared at EST through an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant. It’s listed in The Burns Mantle Yearbook as one of the best regional plays of 2008, and is published by Smith and Kraus in The Best Plays of 2008. Other plays include Leveling Up, Sirens, Out of Sterno, The Last Schwartz, Meta, Fortune, The Gulf of Westchester, Miniatures, and Random Acts. She’s currently writing a work commissioned by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. A graduate of The Juilliard School, Deb is a two-time recipient of the Lecompte du Nouy grant from The Lincoln Center Foundation, the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award, and the Lilly Award. She has received grants from The Edgerton Foundation and the NEA.

What a patient population has agreed that scientists may study is one of the central issues in INFORMED CONSENT.  In reviewing the play recently for Nature, Brendan Maher offered a capsule summary of the case that inspired the play:

“In the early 1990s, researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe collected blood samples from the Havasupai people, an isolated Native American tribe living in the Grand Canyon. A decade later, tribe members sued the university for misusing the samples, on the grounds that they had not been fully informed of the study’s scope. The legal battle culminated in a US$700,000 payout from ASU; the remaining samples were returned.”

In INFORMED CONSENT, the passion the lead researcher Jillian, a genetic anthropologist, brings to her work is fueled by a personal dilemma. Will she inherit her mother’s gene for Alzheimer’s? Will her daughter? Jillian is studying the incredibly high incidence of diabetes among a tribe of Native Americans – and her research opens up the possibility of major discoveries in other areas – cancer, schizophrenia, and perhaps even Alzheimer’s – areas not covered by what the tribe has authorized.

INFORMED CONSENT dramatizes many of the dilemmas facing working scientists – and all of us – today: the clash of cultures, the intersection of science and religion, the ethics of genetic research, questions of identity and how much we really want to know about ourselves.

Join us for what promises to be a stimulating and memorable evening – or come to one of the two other talkbacks scheduled after the remaining Thursday evening performances. 

The Off-Broadway Premiere at The Duke on 42nd Street of INFORMED CONSENT by Deborah Zoe Laufer is being co-produced by Primary Stages and The Ensemble Studio Theatre through EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.