(Toronto – June 14, 2010)
George Charames, a PhD student in Dr. Bharati Bapat’s lab, would never have imagined that his experience at the Lunenfeld would include lending expert advice to the director of the movie Splice, which recently opened in Canada.
“Absolutely not! I often revel in how fortunate I have been during my years at Mount Sinai, to be afforded so many unique opportunities,” said Charames.
Charames’ extensive training and experience in molecular oncology at the Lunenfeld has given him more than enough expertise and insight to be the scientific consultant for director Vincenzo Natali’s new biotech thriller.
Filmed in Toronto, the movie follows two geneticists (played by Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody), whose experiment goes awry when they secretly blend human DNA into their creations. Splice also explores the ethical and scientific issues of biotechnology—a ‘what if’ scenario that plays out like Frankenstein, except the theoretical concepts lean more toward fact than fiction.
So how did Charames get involved in the first place? In early 2007, the Splice film crew visited the Lunenfeld for a behind-the-scenes look at biomedical science, to assist with their pre-production research. Charames was in Dr. Bapat’s lab assessing a tissue culture sample, when Natali inquired about his work. After a few discussions, Natali asked Charames to be the scientific consultant for the film.
“When I reviewed the script, it was excellent dramatically, very well written, but needed work in terms of scientific accuracy,” said Charames. “So I really needed to do my homework.” Charames gave advice on the script and set design, to ensure they captured the essence of ‘real’ biomedical research. He was even asked to direct a scene, and also starred as an extra in the film.
“It’s pretty amazing now to see the transition to a full feature,” said Charames. “I know for sure the science is good! One of the great aspects to the movie is that it pushes our thinking and makes us really consider the issues and ethics of biotechnology.”
“Two years ago, I would have said it’s all theoretical, but now it’s almost as if the movie has come true,” said Charames, referring to both the creation in 2008 of a human-pig chimera (by researchers at the Mayo Clinic), as well as the discovery last month of a new method to generate artificial life from a synthetic strain of a microbe called Mycoplasma mycoides (by scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute).
Charames started as a summer student at the Lunenfeld in 1999, and completed his Masters and PhD degrees at Mount Sinai as well. His research in Dr. Bapat’s lab focuses on cell signaling pathways in colon cancer.
“The best part for me was creating the science to fit Vincenzo’s ideas,” said Charames. “It was also exciting to train Sarah and Adrien in being geneticists, and to see all the scientific details come together into intricate scenes. They had experts for all aspects of the movie.”
Charames’ next ‘role’ will be at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he will soon begin a two-year Fellowship toward certification by the American Board of Medical Genetics—he was selected as one of only two fellows in the prestigious program.
“George has a unique combination of an enterprising nature, people skills and a positive outlook that enables him to take on challenges and reach his goals,” said Dr. Bapat, Lunenfeld Investigator and Charames’ research supervisor.