Oral history interview with Michael D. Cole

  • 1989-Aug-01

Michael D. Cole grew up in Ada, Ohio, the oldest of four children. His father was an insurance agent, his mother a housewife. He was always interested in science and nature. He was good at math and physics in high school, so he majored in physics at Ohio Northern University, never taking a biology class. Nonetheless, he found biology more attractive as a career so he entered a PhD program at Johns Hopkins University, starting in Michael Beer's lab. His thesis involved trying to sequence DNA using microscopy. As a postdoc in Ru Chih Huang's lab, Cole planned to study immunoglobulin but ended up working to characterize the myc gene instead. Cole took his first job at St. Louis University, where he used the tumor systems in a "survey" experiment with myc. He found the translocation and translocation breakpoint, publishing results in Cell; that were considered a major breakthrough in the study of cancer. He moved to Princeton University, where there was a good molecular biology department headed by Arnold Levine. He has stayed with myc since, still seeking the binding site, but he has two other related areas of interest: finding cofactors necessary for activating tumor growth and studying growth factor receptors. Cole talks about his personal philosophy; his style; his belief in the necessity for intellectual curiosity in science; serendipity; funding difficulties, especially for long-term projects like his; the problem of invasiveness of tumors. He hopes that in five years he will have found the binding site for myc. He wants to study the biology of the system in order to find out how transformation of cells occurs, but at this point he feels that the technology does not permit it; he will be going to Sweden to try using PCR. Cole concludes the interview with a discussion of the prints and postcards decorating his office.

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