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Oral history interview with Rory M. Marks

  • 1997-Nov-05 – 1997-Nov-07

Rory M. Marks was born in Sydney, Australia, the elder of two brothers. His parents had met in the Royal Australian Air Force, during World War II; there his father was an aircraft engineer and his mother a radio operator, but the senior Marks went into the fish business when he left the service. The family lived near the Sydney harbor, and the boys spent as much time as possible at the beach. Rory and his brother attended a rigorous Anglican school where grades were extremely important. Rory was always interested in how things work, in the elegance of mathematical explanations and the creativity of science. He thought that differential calculus was the most beautiful thing. He also liked to take things apart (and he still does). He took apart the garbage disposal to see how it worked; soon there was garbage all around the foundations of the house, as he had not put the disposal back together correctly. It was customary to attend college where one lived, so Rory went to the University of New South Wales and lived at home. Unaware that science did not have to mean medicine, he entered the medical school. Classes were large lecture classes, often on video. After his third year he did an optional year of research, working with T-cell immunity to salmonella in rats; he liked his mentors and the other students. He liked the clinical work and liked his boss, Ronald Penny, who was a very good clinician. During Christmas break he went to England, to Ian Clark's lab, then back to med school with Penny; after three or four years in the same lab he chose vascular biology for his field and wanted to go overseas. He went to Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, to Judah Folkman's lab and learned to grow blood vessel wall cells; then it was back to Australia. Next, he went to Griffith, Australia, a rural area, for his internship, then, no longer satisfied with his work in Penny's lab, he worked with Michael Berndt at a different hospital. Rory decided that science was best done in the United States, so he took a scholarship to the University of Michigan, working in Peter Ward's lab on oxygen-deprived free radicals in vascular tissue damage. He attended a summer class in molecular biology at Smith College, where he was impressed by a talk given by Vishva Dixit, with whom he now works closely. He grew cells for Dixit, working on complement system. He met Faye Silverstein, who is now his wife. For that reason and because science is better in the United States, he did not want to return to Australia. He is still at the University of Michigan, where he had a breakthrough in his vascular complement fixation (VCF) work after nine years. He continues his interest in tropical diseases and their vascular implications. His wife is also a physician-scientist, a pediatric neurologist, and they are working together on a project concerning angiogenesis.

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