Above & Beyond
Dr. James Wilson
When the keynote speaker at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s annual medical conference had to back out in 1989, James A. Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., was asked to fill in. Little did Wilson know — then working at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to develop a gene therapy program — that agreeing to speak at the conference would impact the rest of his career.
Six weeks before Wilson addressed the crowd of leading CF caregivers and researchers, a team of scientists, including Wilson’s colleague, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. had discovered the gene for CF. The discovery forever changed the world of medicine. And the speaking engagement changed Wilson’s life.
“The reception I got from the CF community was very powerful,” Wilson said. “What really drew me in were the people with CF and their families. In that moment, I knew CF would be part of my life forever.”
Today, Wilson is a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he works to find cures for genetic diseases — including cystic fibrosis. His commitment to helping those with CF is stronger than ever.
Aside from the research he conducts in his lab, Wilson heads Team CF, a national bicycling team that raises funds for the CF Foundation and promotes physical fitness among those living with the disease. The team has allowed Wilson to combine his dedication to finding a cure for CF with another passion of his: mountain bike endurance racing.
“I read some studies showing that physical fitness can benefit people with CF. I thought: why not use the bicycle to put together a national effort that would encourage fitness in those living with CF and raise money to help find a cure?” Wilson said. “I have experienced the physical and psychological benefits of fitness in my own life. That, combined with my commitment to the CF community, are what drove me to create this team.”
In the three years since Wilson started Team CF, the project has expanded beyond anything he initially imagined. Today, Team CF is made up of multiple teams, each with dozens of riders who have pedaled their way through the U.S. raising funds and awareness.
Focused on a Cure
Beginning this year, Wilson will take the team’s effort one step further. Team CF is partnering with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Cycle for Life program to advance their shared mission of finding a cure.
“Our major effort right now is working with the CF Foundation to make Cycle for Life the premier cycling fundraising event in the country,” he said. “I’m incredibly excited about where this is going.”
“The Foundation’s partnership with Team CF gives us an exciting new way to continue our mission of finding a cure,” said Barbara-Ann Brenner, who leads the CF Cycle for Life. “We welcome Jim Wilson and his cyclists with open arms and are eager to start a new chapter in the CF Cycle for Life program.”
While Wilson hopes Team CF will continue to grow, his motivation remains steadfast.
“I am vigilant about ensuring that everything we do, every dollar we raise, every cyclist we recruit understands why we’re doing this,” Wilson said. “Bringing physical fitness to people with CF is incredible, but our hope and passion will always stay focused on finding a cure.”
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