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‘Breaking Bad’ spoof video raises awareness for multiple sclerosis

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

The scene is shot from a rooftop parking lot in Downtown Albuquerque, the Sandia Mountains visible in the distance.

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Local actors impersonate Walter White, right, and Jesse Pinkman in this still shot from “Breaking (bad) Barriers,” an award winning video of the UNM Clinical and Translational Science Center for a National Institutes of Health competition. The video explores promising research into chronic neurological illnesses such as MS.

Two characters, one with a knitted cap pulled over his ears, the other with a goatee, glasses and a wide-brimmed hat, meet surreptitiously.

Jesse, the young man in the cap, chews his nails. “I don’t know,” he says. “These people with MS are getting worse. Some u’m can’t even walk, yo.”

The other man responds: “We’ve got to figure out a way to catalyze the progress.”

Says Jesse: “You may be a genius, Mr. White, but that don’t mean anything to a woman who can’t walk anymore.”

No, the scene is not from “Breaking Bad.” It’s an excerpt from “Breaking (bad) Barriers,” a video creation of the University of New Mexico Clinical and Translational Science Center.

The center made the 3½-minute parody of the “Breaking Bad” TV series for a competition sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. And of some 200 entries, it won second place and even landed a mention on the front page of the Washington Post.

The spoof deals with Multiple Sclerosis, hence Jesse’s concern over people who can no longer walk because of the disease, and alludes to other chronic neurological illnesses.

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This elevated shot is from “Breaking (bad) Barriers,” an award-winning video of the UNM Clinical and Translational Science Center for a National Institutes of Health competition.

À la “Breaking Bad,” “Breaking (bad) Barriers” comes replete with quietly passed envelopes and satchels, hushed references to money, characters clad in yellow hazmat suits, the preparation of various chemicals, a scene from inside a car trunk, Lydia and her famous cup of tea, Mr. White telling Jesse, “We’ve got work to do.”

Even the credits utilize the periodic table of the elements, with bromine providing the “Br” in “Breaking” and barium the first two letters of “Barriers.”

“The whole thing is about breaking the barriers to accelerate health discoveries,” said Dr. Richard Larson, executive vice chancellor at the HSC and director of the center.

In announcing the Common Fund 10-Year Commemoration Video Competition earlier this year, the NIH advised entrants, that while “your video should be entertaining, remember that you are trying to explain your research to someone unfamiliar with your field. Avoid jargon!”

Of the many entries, the only one that beat out UNM’s came from Harvard University. It is titled, “Role of the Innate Immune System in Aging and Development of Alzheimer’s Disease.”

The cast of “Breaking (bad) Barriers” includes local actors Dan Tabeling as Walt, Lando Ruiz as Jesse, Fabianna Tabeling as Lydia, and Patsy Lucero as the MS patient who had lost the ability to walk.

“Breaking (bad) Barriers” is a companion piece to a more serious video on the search for a cure to MS and other chronic illnesses at the Clinical and Translational Science Center, taped in 2012. It features two very real patients, Sherry Harrison, who has MS, and Rosemarie “Chris” Marroquin, a young woman who has lived with Cystic Fibrosis her entire life. Like “Breaking (bad) Barriers,” it delivers a wealth of hope.

For example, Charles Gallegos, clinic coordinator of the UNM Adult CF Center, says in the video, “I truly believe there’s going to be a cure found for Cystic Fibrosis.”

And Larson observes, also in the video, “Research brings hope. It brings hope to the patients we serve, and the community at large.”

Meanwhile, remember the woman in the parody who could no longer walk? Walt and Jesse concoct a blue drug for her, and, in the end, Walt phones his young protege with the good news: “She’s walking.”

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