Byrne is no stranger to ‘Extraordinary Measures' when it comes to Pompe disease
Dr. Barry Byrne, a pediatric cardiologist and highly accomplished geneticist at the UF College of Medicine, leaves today for New York but not for an academic seminar or to present a research paper. He will be attending the premier of a major motion picture and walking the red carpet with Hollywood stars, such as Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser.
Byrne's recent brush with movie fame comes as a result of his 15 years of scientific study and clinical trials in efforts to develop treatments for Pompe disease, a rare and complex disorder that is often fatal to children. The film "Extraordinary Measures," opening Friday, Jan. 22, depicts the true story of how John Crowley, played by Fraser, battles to find a cure to save his two youngest children, who were diagnosed with Pompe.
Ford plays scientist Robert Stonehill, a character based on a collection of researchers associated with the disease, including Byrne.
Faced with no options, Crowley quit his job as a marketing executive and started a biotechnology company, Novazyme Pharmaceuticals Inc., which was eventually purchased by Genzyme Corp.
The original clinical trial for the drug was designed by Byrne and his team at UF. Crowley and his wife Aileen, played by Keri Russell, were prepared to bring their two children to Gainesville for the trial when the pharmaceutical company was acquired by Genzyme.
"The movie focuses on the struggle of John and the scientists he worked with to develop a treatment," said Byrne, who provided technical expertise and has a brief moment as an extra in the movie. "The filmmakers strived to create a story the audience will understand. I think it will resonate with people to see how much a parent will go through and do anything for his kids."
Cathryn Mah, Ph.D., a UF assistant professor of pediatrics, has worked with Byrne on gene therapy research and trials for Pompe disease. She attended the Hollywood premier for "Extraordinary Measures" this week.
"It was a very interesting experience," Mah said. "It was also a little surreal to watch a movie about the research we've done and the people we've worked with. Never in a million years could I have guessed that a movie would be made out of it."
Last year Byrne and his son, Tyler, 17, were on the set in Portland, Ore., where they met Ford, Fraser and producer Michael Shamberg ("Erin Brokovich," "World Trade Center"), who placed Byrne is a couple scenes.
"One scene we shot took a half day for what will probably be three seconds." Byrne said. Look for the UF physician-scientist during the opening credits, standing next to Fraser on a bus platform wearing a bright blue sweater.