Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on the Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame Class of 2020.
Science starts with a problem, James Seckler told the Brookfield High School ninth-grade science class.
Seckler’s problem was standing in front of the class for the whole class period on March 4 and finding things the students might be interested in talking about or hearing about. His initial thrust was to talk about energy, which the students had been studying. That led to topics such as entropy, the heat death of universe, the treatment of laboratory rats, video games and, finally, his work as a research scientist.
While the conversation was a loud, rollicking back and forth between Seckler and the students, the 1998 Brookfield High grad soberly told the students that, if you’re gonna get into science, you better have a thick skin.
“One of the things about the sciences is people tell you you suck on almost a daily basis,” Seckler said. “You almost never turn in a paper or a grant or anything and people look at this like, ‘Oh man, you did such a good job.’ You have somebody on the other side of that going, ‘This is stupid. What’s wrong with you? Why do you think this?’ and you have to fight them for every inch.”
In his research, Seckler has tackled the problems associated with HIV, breathing, blood pressure, sepsis and opioid addiction. He has found a way to measure the chemicals that affect breathing and blood pressure, and to predict when someone will develop sepsis, a blood infection that is a leading cause of death in hospitals.
This work led him into addiction research, and he’s trying to perfect a drug that he didn’t invent that not only reverses opioid overdose, but leaves the addict uninterested in using again.
“It’s just like Narcan, except it doesn’t have any of Narcan’s side effects,” he said at a high school assembly. “You see, when you save somebody with an opioid OD with Narcan, they go into withdrawal, and they suffer severe pain. This actually leads them to use again.”
Seckler said he founded a company with the drug’s creator, and they hope to open human trials later this year.
“If I can solve that,” he said of opioid addiction, “I will actually have done something good for humanity.”
Seckler, who currently works at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, has spent much of his life in academia, even though, as he told the students, he “hated” high school, with it’s early-morning start time, excessive homework and “soul-crushing” routine.
“The thing that I hated about high school was that it was all things you had to do and, anything that was interesting, you really couldn’t do,” he said.
But, he never took the easy way out, enrolling in the hardest courses, and putting a lot of effort into his science, math and French classes.
“I always kind of knew that college would be better,” Seckler said. “Throughout all of high school, I was literally just holding on for college. In college, I hit my stride way more.”
He graduated from Youngstown State University, obtained a doctorate at Case Western, and then completed a post-doctorate degree at the University of Rochester in New York.
Just as he bristled at the limitations of high school, his work as a researcher has never gone smooth, at least from the standpoint of his bosses. He admitted he has conducted unauthorized research, gotten into a drunken shouting match with a boss over whether to develop drugs that will make a lot of money or treat the most people, and even criticized the agency that funds his addiction research for their motivations in wanting to conduct the research.
Seckler is willing to put up with the repercussions of pursuing what is interesting to him, even if it’s not what he’s supposed to do.
“Always do what’s interesting to you, and try to get around what’s not,” he told the students. “And, also, work hard when you need to. I’ve actually been called the world’s laziest workaholic because I’m always doing something work-related, but I’m almost never doing what I’m told.”
Brookfield Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame has announced Class of 2022 inductees. They are:
William Toby Gibson, Class of 1991; Marquita Hubbard Kemp, Class of 1980; Kaitlyn Nasci Lang, Class of 2004; Jason Straka, Class of 1990; and Dr. Joe Zuhosky, Class of 1985.
The inductees will be honored Sept. 9 and 10. Tickets for the Sept. 10 induction banquet will go on sale the first week of August.
The hall of fame committee is sponsoring a bus trip to Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh on Aug. 10.
The Anderson Coach and Tour bus will leave the parking lot of Tiffany’s Event Center, 601 Bedford Road, at 9:30 a.m. and depart the casino at 6:30 pm.
The cost per person is $35 and each participant will receive $10 in free play. The final day to make a reservation with payment is July 15. To reserve a spot, send a check in the amount of $35 made out to the Brookfield Distinguished Alumni HOF and mail it to Diane Riefstahl, 740 Tamplin St., Sharon, PA 16146. Please include a contact number.
This incentive is courtesy of 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Adam Elhaddi.
For information, call Riefstahl at 724-346-9615.