In 1962, a chance encounter with Martin Luther King Jr. would transform the life of a young medical student named Larry Brilliant.

Larry Brilliant with an early Apple II computer. All images courtesy of HarperCollins.

Dr. Brilliant would go on to help eradicate smallpox, direct Google.org, help save 4 million people from blindness, and become one of the foremost experts in global pandemics.

But at 19 years old, Brilliant was holed up in his dorm room, subsisting on stale peanut candy and comic books, grief-stricken at the thought of losing his father to cancer.

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Two summers ago, it seemed that everyone in the world was throwing buckets of ice water over their heads for the best reason — to help find a cure for a deadly disease.

ALS Association ringing the NASDAQ bell. Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images.

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Heroes

There is rainwater seeping into my jeans, and my instructions are about to blow away. But my front yard could hold the cure to cancer, so I keep digging.

I am outside my home in Portland, Oregon, digging in the soil with a small plastic scoop I requested from the Natural Products Discovery Group at the University of Oklahoma. An interdisciplinary team of researchers are hard at work there, looking for fungi and natural products found in soil that may be used for a host of drugs and cures for cancer, infectious diseases, and even heart disease.

So the least I can do is get my knees wet.

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Heroes