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Frederic Bertley

Museum president and health researcher Frederic Bertley was born in Montreal, Canada in 1970. His father, Leo Bertley, served as professor of history at Vanier College, as editor of the newspaperAfro-Can, and author of Anglophone Blacks in Quebec; his mother, June Bertley, was the founder and president of the Quebec Task Force on Immigrant Women. Bertley graduated from McGill University with his B.Sc. degree in physiology and mathematics in 1994, and his Ph.D. degree in immunology in 1999. From 2000 to 2003, Bertley served as postdoctoral research fellow in development of an HIV vaccine at the Harvard University Medical School and the Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1993, Bertley was named International Project Manager for the International Development Research Council (IDRC). While there, he provided clinical and technical support for researchers in Sudan, Africa and in Haiti, West Indies. After teaching at Northeastern University, Bertley joined Roxbury Community College in 2006 where he directed the Louis Stokes Alliance Membership Program, the Bridges and the Boston Science Partnership (BSP) programs. He was also recruited by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to serve as director of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program. In 2008, Bertley was named vice president of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also serves as director of the Franklin Center, director of the Franklin Awards Program, and executive director of the Journal of The Franklin Institute.

Bertley was also the founder and director of the Color of Science Program and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MACSP). He has published research in numerous academic scientific journals including the Journal of Immunology, Nature of Medicine, Diagnostic Microbiology & Infectious Disease, and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.Bertley also co-authored the monographs, Absence of Immunologic Injury Following Hgh titer Vaccination in the Sudan, From West Philly to the White House: The Story of the Franklin Institute’s Partnership for Achieving Careers in Technology and Science (PACTS), and The Power of 3 Months: The Positive Impact of a Basic Science Research Internship of Underrepresented Minority Students.

Bertley served on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Biotech Life Sciences Institute (PBLSI), the Garvey Institute, Inc., and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. He is a member of the Quebec Black Medical Association and served as a mentor for the Bell Science Foundation. Bertley is a recipient of the Dean’s Service Award from Harvard Medical School and the Dell Inspire 100 World Changers Award. He was also named to the Philadelphia Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list. Bertley has keynoted or been an invited speaker at numerous venues including the White House, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the United Nations.

Frederic Bertley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on Jun 18, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.149

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/18/2013

Last Name

Bertley

Middle Name

M. N.

Schools

Harvard Medical School

McGill University

First Name

Frederic

Birth City, State, Country

Montreal

HM ID

BER02

Favorite Season

Spring

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

Think, it's not illegal yet.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

11/27/1970

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Columbus

Country

Canada

Favorite Food

Chicken Roti from Trinidad

Short Description

Museum president and health researcher Frederic Bertley (1970 - ) , founder and director of the Color of Science Program and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MACSP), served as vice president of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Employment

Franklin Institute

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Bos

Wilmer Hale (formally Hale and Dorr LLP).

Roxbury Community College

Life Science Initiative

Harvard University Medical School and Children's Hospital Laboratory

Favorite Color

Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Frederic Bertley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley talks about his parents' involvement in the Universal Negro Improvement Association

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his three siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley talks about his family's debates

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley talks about learning French as a child in Quebec, Canada

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley describes growing up African Canadian in Quebec, Canada

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Frederic Bertley describes becoming the Most Valuable Player at Cooper's Sport Camp

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Frederic Bertley describes a racial incident he experienced as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley talks about his first primary school

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley talks about the presence of religion in his family

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley talks about the United Negro Improvement Association presence in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes the Garvey Institute pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes the Garvey Institute School pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley talks about his interest in science during school

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley talks about his high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley describes attending Vanier College as part of the Canadian educational system

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his teachers at Vanier College

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley describes his decision to attend McGill University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes his experience at McGill University, his interest in immunology and working in the laboratory

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes his experience as a research assistant in Haiti pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley describes his experience as a research assistant in Haiti pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes being a research assistant in Sudan

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley talks about his experiences in Sudan

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his doctoral dissertation pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley describes his doctoral dissertation pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes his research on the Epstein-Barr virus

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes his research on HIV as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley describes his research on HIV as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes teaching at Roxbury Community College and Northeastern University

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley talks about his involvement in the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his research on HIV vaccines

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley describes his time working at WilmerHale, LLP

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes how he met his wife

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes becoming a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley talks about why he decided not to start a research laboratory pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Frederic Bertley talks about why he decided not to start a research laboratory pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes being recruited by the Franklin Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley describes the projects he oversees at the Franklin Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes the demographics of the Franklin Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley describes the programs for minorities at the Franklin Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley reflects on his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes his philosophy on science education

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley describes his plans for the Garvey Institute

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley talks about the Philadelphia Chapter of the Garvey Institute

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley talks about his family

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley reflects on his life

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes the importance of The HistoryMakers

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

2$3

DATitle
Frederic Bertley talks about his experiences in Sudan
Frederic Bertley describes his research on HIV vaccines
Transcript
But I had, I had some very--so, Haiti was wonderful. And Sudan ended up being wonderful, too. But there were some really seminal things that impacted me. One was going to Khartoum and seeing where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile. And you know, I mean you grow up as someone with Afrocentric values. And so, you talk about civilizations, you know, great civilizations on the planet. And of course, you got to talk about Kemet, and you know, the Pyramids, and the Valley of the Kings, and all that good stuff. And you just get enamored with it. I mean, anybody, white or black--if you don't enamored with ancient Egypt, then there's something wrong with you. So, you get into that. So the Nile, of course, the Nile River, is you know, that's the mothership that produced all that, you know, that stuff. And I never went to Egypt at that point in time. But to be in Khartoum and see where the Niles meet was--for lack of a better way of putting it--a very spiritual experience. You know, first of all, you actually can see two colored rivers, which are phenomenal. One looks blue and the other looks--they call it the White Nile, but it looks like brownish. And it's because that one is carrying a lot of the soot from underneath the water, and so, dirties, dirties or browns the water. But then they connect. And you see right where they connect. And it's remarkable to see nature be that black and white, literally. You would think, okay, they would blend and-- No, it's a White Nile-- And seeing that, and knowing that that river goes up to Egypt was just, you know, a powerful thing. A second powerful experience was--I was staying in this hotel and it was about twelve stories. And it was, you know, by our standards would have been like a one-star, maybe two-star hotel. By their standards it was, you know, a place where you go for your honeymoon, and then you get married, there, etc. etc. And so, so they had running water, for example. And so, you had running water. You had a little sink with one notch and you could flush your toilet every now and then. And they had electricity. And so, I'm--so again, first time living in a Muslim country. You know, two in the morning, "Waaaaaaaaa", you know, it's the call for prayer. But not ever experiencing that, I'm like, you know, "What the heck is that noise?" You know, it sounds like cows being slaughtered. I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but it sounds--the sounds are very different. And then you learn quickly. Okay, those are the calls for prayer, and it happens, you know, five times a day, blah, blah, blah. Well, the other sound that was--it's burned in my brain like it heard it today. There was one night where I heard this woman wailing--like just screaming at the top of her lungs. And I was convinced she was being beaten. You know, you're not sure--how do I react? Do I go up there to find out what's going on? So, it's clearly coming from inside the hotel, one room. So, I run all the way downstairs to speak to one of the security guys. And when I say security guys--I mean this is no jacket and a badge. You know--some guy who's supposedly the security guy. And I said, "You know, what's going on? It's a lot of noise." And he's like, "Oh, you know, don't worry, my brother. Don't worry, my brother." So, I'm like, alright. I go back up--still going on. I come back down. He's like, "I told you, don't worry." So, I go back up. Finally, the next morning I come out. And it turns out that it was a newlywed couple. And the woman--and this is a practice that happens in Sudan--and I'm not judging it, I'm just reciting it. The woman went through female circumcision. And what they do after they cut off parts of your vaginal region, they then sew you shut to ensure you do not have sex. And when you then have sex for the first time, it is a traumatic painful experience, because they literally have to rip you open. And so here I am again, this little Canadian boy who, you know, read about female circumcision and heard stuff here and there, you know--there's some stories here. But obviously, I've never experienced it. I experienced at an absolute visceral and literal level. And then to see the woman and man a few days later and have to point out that that's the couple, you know, that is burned on my brain forever. And so, you know, Sudan was different, you know. But again, like Haiti, you know, you go to poor places, and the poorest people are the nicest people. And so, there's so many wonderful, positive stories and friendships that I built up through that. But those are some things that-- You know, you can't go through that and be the same person, and come back to Canada and say you're going to go to your class and study for an exam. I mean, it changes you. And if it doesn't change you, you know--hey, that's interesting. So you know, Haiti was a seminal experience, transformative. Sudan was a similar experience, further transformative. And both of them just made me understand that I got to be involved where I can, in international projects. I got to be involved and try my best to contribute to other people's lives, especially those who don't have much. And just really the ethos that my parents taught me started to jump forward as to a priority in my life. And you know, and so-- And also, those also cemented my love for research. And I said okay, I've got to go into the research, because there's not enough people that look like me doing this stuff, and I want to add and contribute and try to work in those areas.$Now you were part of a--okay, a DNA study in 2004, right?$$Uh huh.$$Was this another HIV--$$Yeah. So, between 2000--so I started my postdoc in 2000. And from about 2001 to 2004, there are a bunch of papers that came out on capturing the work. So, all of them are themed around using HIV DNA as the focal point for generating effective vaccines that can hopefully protect from infection of HIV, and therefore protection from AIDS. And so, they're variance of papers that came out that looked at different aspects of that model.$$Okay. This would involve the rhesus monkeys?$$Yes.$$And mucus membranes of--$$Okay. So, that's interesting. So HIV is a virus, as we all know. It affects the immune system, primarily one set of cells. But it's a disease that's transmitted by body fluids. So, what does that mean? That means you can get it through the blood, or you can get it through other body fluids. Well, as a sexual transmitted disease, the sexual body fluids are part of what's called the mucosal system. So, the vaginal and penile and anus areas are part of your mucosal system, which is really from the area of your mouth, all the way down your throat. For example, all the wet linings of your body, is the most simplest way of looking at it. There is an actual immune system that's different from the rest of your body's immune system that specifically line those areas. Because, as you can imagine, if you're breathing in or swallowing stuff everyday, you can get exposed to pathogens. And so, you've developed a mucosal system, sometimes referred to as MALT, mucosal ancillary lymphoid tissue. But we have a mucosal system that can protect us from infection. So, the rationale for vaccine developers--myself and our team included--was that if HIV infects you primarily through the mucosal system, which is you know, about 85 percent or whatever the number is--I'd have to like check. But it's, around 85 percent of HIV infection happens at mucosal surfaces. So the rationale was well, instead of injecting in an arm so it gets in your blood system, or injecting in your muscle for the vaccine, let's introduce the vaccine via that mucosal surface.$$Yeah, just for the record. The other way you could be infected would be through an open cut, or something like that.$$Through an open cut, exactly. But again, that's a very--very few people get HIV--well, in combination with certain sexual practices, you can have open lesions. But again, those lesions are at mucosal surfaces. So, you're absolutely right. If you have an open wound on your hand, and you get exposed, you could get infected. Just like if you have an HIV--so, if you have a blood transfusion with contaminated blood, like Arthur Ashe, you can get HIV. But, but the bulk of the HIV infection through sexual transmission happens at a mucosal sight. So, if you stimulate the immune reaction there, and load the vaccine there, the rationale is you would get a stronger immune response there, and maybe get better protected. And that's what that paper really looks at. And indeed, it works. When you vaccinate the monkeys at the mucosal sites, they are better protected than when you vaccinate the monkeys through intravenous injection. So, again, in the monkey models, it worked really well. Human models, you know, HIV vaccine is still remaining elusive.$$Okay. So, what is the difference between the response of the Rhesus monkeys and humans? I mean in terms of--why is there a difference?$$So, what is the difference? If we knew that, you know, I would not be sitting on this chair. We would be curing HIV all around the world, and be thrilled about it.$$So we're still trying to figure that out?$$Yeah. So, the term they use in immunology is 'correlates of immunity.' Meaning what's responsible, if you will, for a specific kind of immunity that you're looking for. And so, you know, you start in mice--you see the model working. You go to monkeys, you know, that's really close to humans. They're not just mammals, they're primates. And so, you know, they're as close--they're our closest cousins, if you will. And so, the correlates of immunity should be tighter, but there are things that just aren't fully understood. I mean, the bottom line is we don't fully know why a vaccine can work perfectly well in a monkey, and why it doesn't work in a human. Now, there's a gazillion hypotheses out there, but there's no smoking bullet yet. And so that's--as you know, we don't have an HIV vaccine yet. And we have candidate after candidate after candidate vaccine, but we are not there yet.$$Okay. So, who were some of your significant, I guess, colleagues or mentors at Harvard [University, Cambridge, Massachusetts]?$$Sure. So, my direct PI [Principal Investigator] was Anna Alvalini, a wonderful research scientist. She's Italian born, and trained as an M.D. Then she moved to the United States to the National Institute of Health where she got trained, and then came to MIT's Whitehead Institute [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts]. And then, of course came to, to Harvard, where she set up her lab. So, she was my direct PI. But we worked with a bunch of other very influential researchers, including Norm [Norman] Letvin from Harvard, Dan Barouch from Harvard. You know, there were several interesting scientists who were working--it's part of a bigger group, towards this HIV piece.