Oral history interview with David E. Fisher

  • 2001-Jun-06 – 2001-Jun-08

David E. Fisher grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey, the second of three children. His grandparents and their extended families had escaped Germany just in time—his grandfathers actually from camps—and settled ultimately in Chile. Some then went to Cuba and then to the United States or Israel. David's father obtained his PhD in biochemistry and nutrition from Rutgers University and then founded their department of nutrition, in which he still works. Fisher's mother became a musician and plays and teaches in the area. David and his siblings all had to learn to play piano, beginning at age five, and later a stringed instrument. David played cello, his siblings violin. His first piano and cello teachers had a strong influence on both his approach to music and his strong work ethic. Fisher was raised in the Conservative Jewish tradition, but his wife's conversion to Judaism led him to become Orthodox. Fisher attended what he calls "terrific" public schools, where he excelled. During summers he went to music camp. Fisher decided to pursue a career in medicine, attending the Curtis Institute of Music and Swarthmore College concurrently. He spent his first college summer in his father's lab, from which he published his first paper. Through Maxine Singer he obtained a summer position in Robert Weinberg's lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his third summer; here he discovered molecular biology and oncology. Although he still wanted to be a doctor, he also wanted to work in the lab, so he decided to pursue a joint MD/PhD degree at Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University and Rockefeller University. He did his residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. At the end of his residency he married. He then began his research in Henry Kunkel's immunology lab; in Günter Blobel's laboratory he completed thesis projects on systemic lupus erythematosis and T-cells. Fisher then talks about his fellowships in adult and pediatric oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children's Hospital Boston; his studies of TFEB transcription factor as a postdoctoral student in Phillip Sharp's laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and the births of his children. He then accepted a research position at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He talks about grant writing; funding; the impact of his grant from the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences; his teaching duties; and minority students and women in the graduate programs and on the faculty at Harvard University. He continues with an explanation of the makeup and management of his lab; his administrative responsibilities; publishing; traveling; clinical responsibilities; and balancing his clinical and science duties. His current research on apoptosis and on microphthalmia transcription factor (Mitf) in melanocytes and osteoclasts fills out the interview, leading to a description of a typical day for Fisher. He hopes for clinical applications of his research projects, and explains some of his future research plans. He gives us his opinions on such matters as serendipity in science, patents, competition vs. collaboration; scientific ethics; career satisfaction; and his long-term goals. He finishes with his favorite memories and his pride in his teaching award.

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