Alfred's Blog

Alfred's Blog


Moving New Video Positions Taubman Medical Research Institute

April 9th, 2014

I am thrilled to share with you the new video produced by the  Detroit-based Doner advertising agency for the Taubman Medical Research Institute at the University of Michigan. The great folks at Doner donated their services in creating this moving 90-second introduction to the Institute. The powerful theme they came up with is “We Can’t Wait.” And I think that effectively captures the way the researchers at the Institute think about the groundbreaking work they’re doing every day. Please take a look at the video, and thank you, Doner!

 

 

 

 


My Birthday Toast

March 20th, 2014

I turned 90 on January 31 and my family outdid themselves with wonderful birthday celebrations over the last several weeks. My wife planned spectacular gatherings in London and New York, and my children and their spouses threw a party to remember at the Detroit Institute of Arts on February 22. I feel pretty good for 90, and seeing so many friends from all over the world was truly special.

Several people have asked if I could share my toast from the Detroit party, so here it is:

I want to thank my wonderful children for planning this terrific party . . . and the DIA for allowing us to be in this historic space.

As you know, Detroit is my home, and I love being in this museum . . . at my age, it feels great to be surrounded by things that are older than I am.

I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by family, friends and wonderful food at most of my first 89 birthday parties . . . except for a couple during World War II when I was serving in the Army Air Corps, and the year I took off to study the criminal justice system in Rochester, Minnesota.

And now I’m 90. Wow, that’s old.

If I were a side table, I’d be close to being an antique.

If I were a fine wine, I’d have a cracked cork and taste like vinegar.

If I were an automobile, I’d been running well past my warranty.

Fortunately, I exercise every day, have a few new parts (including two new glass corneas), and my mechanics – - otherwise known as doctors – - work hard to keep me on the road.

But I sleep wearing an oxygen mask . . .

When I wake up I have to swallow a tray full of pills . . .

I use a cane to steady myself . . .

My candy has no sugar in it . . .

And I constantly worry about the batteries in my hearing aids.

Sometimes I feel more like a science project than a human being.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great things about getting old.

I just can’t remember them!

Old age is just another fact of life . . . And I cope with it.

For example, I’ve learned to be an accomplished sculptor . . . arranging my remaining strands of hair in just the right position to cover my scalp.

All things considered, reaching 90 is an extraordinary personal milestone. It must be, because people keep asking me for my secrets to living a long and healthy life.

And just in case I don’t make it to the century mark . . . here are three recommendations to consider:

First: get a good doctor. They have a big impact on the length and quality of your life. In the 90 years I’ve been alive, nothing has changed more dramatically than health care. Be sure you have a doctor who can take advantage of the breakthroughs.

Second: avoid aggravation as much as possible.

Make a list of all the things that aggravate you in your life . . . study it . . . then tear it up before your wife or children see it. And stay off the golf course. I’m convinced the frustrating game was invented to shorten lives and control population growth.

And third: stay curious and connected to people.

My wife, children and nine grandchildren keep me young . . .

Working with brilliant doctors and researchers at the University of Michigan keeps my brain alive . . .

Traveling around the world and learning about different cultures broadens my mind.

So that’s my advice: Get a good doctor . . . avoid aggravation . . . and stay curious and close to people.

To hell with the warranty.

So please join me in a toast to Detroit, to my family and to at least a few more birthdays!

 My children: Robert, Gayle, and William

family

My wife, Judy, and me

aatjmt1


Yo Ho Oy!

January 7th, 2014

I love a good history book, especially when the author reveals something new and surprising. That’s why I’m recommending a book by Edward Kritzler titled Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean – - How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved out an Empire in the New World in their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom and Revenge.

We learn in American History class that many of the earliest European settlers came to our shores in search of religious freedom.  But while our textbooks focus on Puritans, Pilgrims and Quakers, Kritzler documents the central role played by Jews in the exploration and colonization of the Americas.

It makes great sense that the crews of many expeditions to the New World included Jewish sailors fleeing the intense persecution of the Spanish Inquisition, which began in the late 1400s. Non-Christians in Spain and Portugal at the time had three choices: convert to Christianity, leave the country or be burned at the stake. Given those options, getting as far away from home as possible must have seemed like a good idea.

As Kritzler explains, this desire for escape also motivated young Jews to develop essential nautical skill sets. “Outlawed in the civilized world and vulnerable in the Diaspora, Jews became skilled in ways to find and explore new lands. They were the era’s foremost mapmakers, and also perfected the nautical instruments and astronomical tables the early explorers sailed with. When Jewish expertise was needed, prejudice took a backseat to expediency, and Jewish pilots, adept at reading maps and using navigational instruments, were recruited to interpret those tables. Had they not, many an explorer would have been lost in the vast oceans.”

Kritzler makes a strong case that Christopher Columbus, his financial backers and many of his crew were “secret Jews,” surviving as converted Christians or “conversos.” So we learn that in addition to finding a new trade route to Asia for the Spanish crown, Columbus was seeking a safe new home for his people. And while he didn’t live long enough to see it, a thriving Jewish community – - for the most part out of the reach of the Inquisition – - developed in Jamaica, where Columbus first came ashore in the New World.

As you might guess, not everything would always go as planned on the high seas. Prejudice and betrayal followed the Jewish explorers wherever they went. In response, some turned to the risky but lucrative life of pirating. Kritzler introduces us to many of these colorful, fiercely independent characters who have been lost to history.

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean is a fascinating read for history buffs and anyone interested in the powerful role exclusion plays in motivating people to create their own futures – - no matter how high the risk.

Happy New Year!

 

 

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A Holiday Gift Idea Worth Consideration

December 2nd, 2013

Yesterday’s Detroit Free Press featured a fascinating interview with my good friend Judge Damon Keith. Reporter Cassandra Spratling covers a lot of interesting ground (in print and video formats) discussed in Judge Keith’s recently published biography, Crusader for Justice.  Last month I had the pleasure of hosting a book-launch luncheon at the Detroit Athletic Club that brought together many of Damon’s friends. We celebrated the publication of what I believe should be a must-read for anyone interested in our nation’s historic drive toward civil rights and equal opportunity. Asked by Cassandra Spratling what he hopes people will learn about him in the book, Judge Keith answers: “He did the best he could with his God-given talent and he used his life and the law to try to make things better for all Americans.” If you are looking for a great holiday gift, consider giving someone you love a copy of Crusader for Justice. Judge Keith’s life story is a powerful example of how one person, regardless of the obstacles he or she must overcome, can make a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans.

Philanthropist A. Alfred Taubman, from left, Nathan Conyers and Keith chat at the release party for Keith's biography last month.

Jarrad Henderson/Detroit Free Press


Taubman Scholar’s Research Improves Early Detection of Prostate Cancer

October 22nd, 2013

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among men, but accurate early detection of the deadly disease – - based primarily on measuring PSA levels in the blood – - has been a major challenge for physicians.

Using advanced technology to diagnose and treat prostate cancer is the focus of Taubman Scholar Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan’s work at the University of Michigan Medical School.  His discovery-driven research has identified a gene that appears to be a molecular marker for aggressive forms of prostate cancer. This discovery gives doctors a dependable way to predict which prostate cancers will spread and which will remain localized. That helps doctors and patients make better decisions about which cases require intensive treatment.

Demonstrating how breakthrough science can quickly be translated into effective medical treatment, U of M is now offering a urine test called Mi-Prostate Score based on Dr. Chinnaiyan’s discovery. The new test has proven to be far more accurate than the PSA analysis alone.

Saving lives today and curing diseases tomorrow is what the A. Alfred Taubman Medical research Institute is all about. It’s the brilliant work of scientist/physicians like Arul Chinnaiyan that convinces me that there are no medical challenges beyond our grasp.

Read more about Dr. Chinnaiyan’s discovery here.


Shopping on the Sunny Side of the Street

September 25th, 2013

Some of the highest retail rents in the world, exceeding $3,500 per square foot, can be found in New York City. According to a September 25, 2013, article in The New York Times, the 10 blocks on Fifth Avenue between Central Park and Rockefeller Center (49th to 59th Street) is the most competitive – - and expensive – - shopping district on the planet, followed by Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong, the Champs-Elysees in Paris, and New Bond Street in London.

With the economic environment steadily improving, demand for retail space in districts throughout the Big Apple is heating up. To say the least, things are getting brighter.

Which leads me to what I think are the most interesting points made in the article by Times retail reporter Stephanie Clifford. The story’s headline, “A Premium for a Storefront in the Sun – - Retailers Pay More For Side of Street Shoppers Prefer,” could be taken right out of Chapter 5 in my memoir Threshold Resistance.

The chapter, titled “Creating 100 Percent Locations,” explains how I designed my enclosed malls to capture the best characteristics of traditional shopping districts, while minimizing the negatives that contributed to Threshold Resistance. The Times article reveals something good merchants and developers have known for centuries: store owners want to be on the sunny side of the street and so do shoppers.

The article points out, “As Manhattan rents rise over all, retailers are vying for prime locations, and are paying a premium for areas like the east side of Fifth Avenue – - the sunnier side of the street . . . Shoppers generally gravitate to the sunny side of the street, and natural light helps showcase retailers’ goods.”

One of the advantages a well-designed enclosed shopping center offers retailers and shoppers are two sunny sides of the street, day and night. In fact, by eliminating the street all together, along with the dangerous vehicular traffic it carries, customers can “oscillate” freely between the shops on both sides of the corridor. That translates to higher sales per square foot for the merchant and higher rent per square foot for the landlord.

The article also sates: “Counterintuitively, retailers like to set up shop next to direct competitors, so customers can wander from one like-minded store into the next.”   That’s certainly not “counterintuitive” to any good merchant or developer. “Adjacencies,” is the term we use to describe the critical function of placing the stores in a shopping center in the ideal locations – - again, for both the retailer and the shopper – - to break down (you guessed it) Threshold Resistance.

If you have a moment, read the article – - and then revisit Chapter 5 in Threshold Resistance to get the rest of the story!

 


An Ageless Take on Old Age

July 12th, 2013

Reading The New York Times over the holiday weekend, I couldn’t help but be drawn to a headline on the opinion page: “The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)”

What followed was a wonderful essay by an author and professor of neurology at New York University named Oliver Sacks. Reflecting on the approach of his 80th birthday, Dr. Sacks shares his very positive outlook on life. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Sacks, but as someone who is six months away from turning 90, I admire this young man’s joyful attitude. It’s a beautifully written celebration of a life well lived, well worth the read for people of all ages.


The Reports of Brick and Mortar Retail’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

July 3rd, 2013

Legend has it that Mark Twain, upon learning that the New York Journal had published his obituary, responded, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The same can be said about the baseless epitaphs that have been written about brick and mortar retailing since the earliest days of the Internet.

The continuing resilience of the in-store shopping experience is verified by just-released research conducted by the Harris Poll folks, whose 2013 EquiTrend survey of 38,814 U.S. consumers found that: “Brick and Mortar Retail Brands Beat Out Their Online Counterparts.”

The survey findings read like an advertisement for the International Council of Shopping Centers:

“There are many reasons why a consumer would choose to visit a location-based retailer over their online counterpart, including convenience, selection and immediate needs,” says Lisa Mulyk, Vice President at Harris Interactive. “Most of all, shoppers tend to want to interact with the physical merchandise prior to purchasing, it and the 2013 EquiTrend data shows us that while consumers are shopping online, their brand experience when doing so tends to be lower than their in-store experience.”

In my memoir Threshold Resistance, I point out that the technical limitations of computer screens make it impossible to effectively communicate such important product characteristics as fit, color and feel. There are no fitting rooms or tailors in cyberspace. The more expensive an article of clothing, the more critical it is that it fit well. And there is still a very important social, human element to shopping outside your home.

We know now that the most successful brands are pursuing multichannel distribution strategies, developing what has come to be called “360-degree” marketing strategies. Those who analyze the future of retailing as a zero-sum game don’t understand consumers or retailers. Certainly online shopping is here to stay, but betting against human nature has never been a very successful endeavor.

The Harris findings are well worth the read.


Renowned Cancer Researchers Awarded the $100,000 Taubman Prize for 2013

June 5th, 2013

I’m delighted to announce that this year’s $100,000 Taubman Prize for Excellence in Translational Medical Science will be shared by the renowned physician-scientists whose research transformed chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) from a routinely fatal disease to a manageable condition.

Dr. Brian Druker of Oregon Health & Science University, whose work led to the development of Gleevec® and served as the proof of principle for targeted cancer therapies, and Dr. Charles Sawyers of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, whose studies on resistance to Gleevec led to the development of second generation drugs, will accept the prize Oct. 11 at the Taubman Institute’s annual symposium in Ann Arbor.

The Taubman Prize is presented annually by the Taubman Institute and is open to clinician-scientists — doctors with active patient practices who also conduct laboratory research – around the world.  In keeping with the mission of the Taubman Institute, the prize is intended to recognize work in the crucial field of translational medical science by the clinician-scientists who have done the most to transform laboratory discoveries into clinical applications for patients suffering from disease.

Dr. Druker and his team performed laboratory research that led to the development of imatinib, the generic name for Gleevec. He then led the clinical trials with participation from Dr. Sawyers and Dr. Moshe Talpaz – who serves now on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School and is associate director for translational research at the U-M’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

In contrast to chemotherapies, which are toxic to healthy cells, imatinib targets only cancer cells – leading to fewer side effects. Gleevec has been called a “miracle drug” and “silver bullet” for its ability to halt CML, a cancer that affects the white blood cells.  Prior to Gleevec, bone marrow transplantation was the only treatment for CML, with very poor outcomes.  But patients taking Gleevec have demonstrated a five-year survival rate of about 90 percent. 

Since Gleevec was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it also has been found effective for certain gastrointestinal tumors and nine other cancers.

I am extremely proud that we have the opportunity to honor these fine researchers, whose work epitomizes the mission of the Taubman Institute.   And I hope you will join us when Dr. Druker and Dr. Sawyers present the keynote address at the Oct. 11 symposium.


International Recognition for ALS Stem Cell Trial Results

May 31st, 2013

Earlier this month Taubman Institute Director Dr. Eva Feldman presented amazing new data on the ALS stem cell treatment trial she is leading to the Romanian Neurological Society Congress. The highly respected medical industry website biosciencetechnology.com reported on the presentation and summed up the good news in the opening sentence of their story: “For an unheard-of two years, stem cells have slowed the progression of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a devastating condition with a two-to-five year survival rate, in a small group of patients.” With the recent go-ahead from the Federal Drug Administration to begin a Phase II trial, we making great progress toward our ultimate goal of defeating this horrible disease. Here’s a link to the biosciencetechnology.com article.