Oral history interview with Frank J. Rauscher, III

  • 1996-Oct-07 – 1996-Oct-09

Frank J. Rauscher, III, one of five children, grew up mostly in suburbs of Washington, D. C. His father was a cancer researcher with the National Institutes of Health at first, eventually becoming director of the National Cancer Institute; his mother was a teacher and homemaker. Because of his father's important scientific career, he was often fully aware of politics and science, even shaking President Nixon's hand at the signing of the National Cancer Act. Rauscher attributed his early interest in biology to being immersed in the field because of his father's career. He was a young teen at the time of the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. , both of which amplified, to him, the fact that he lived in a city at the center of internationally important decisions. Rauscher attended Moravian College in Pennsylvania. He was familiar with the college because his father had gone there. It was only in his junior year that he decided to major in biology. The removal of a large tumor from his chest helped change his mind about becoming a doctor, and an exceptional teacher's help in mathematics helped make a science career possible. During one mid-year break, Rauscher gained research experience in Sol Spiegelman's lab at Columbia University. During his other school breaks he worked in a chemotherapy clinic at Yale-New Haven Hospital. These two different aspects of treating cancer solidified Rauscher's career choice; he made his final decision to be a scientist, and he devoted his remaining college time to science courses. Feeling that experience would stand him in good stead when he applied to graduate school, Rauscher entered Edwin Cadman's lab as a technician, where he did research on biochemical synergy as a means of killing tumors. While in Cadman's lab, Rauscher decided to go into pharmacology and began to prepare to enter a graduate program. The burgeoning field of molecular biology and oncogene research ensnared his interest, so he entered graduate school at State University of New York at Buffalo. He went into Terry Beerman's lab to study the interaction of drugs and chromatin. Then came the breakthroughs in oncogene research in the 1980s. Rauscher applied for a postdoc position in the Tom Curran lab at Roche Institute of Molecular Biology and switched from pharmacology to molecular biology. Research in the lab focused on the fosoncogene. Collaboration with Bruce Spiegelman and B. Robert Franza Jr. established a DNA-binding site for fos. The discovery that jun and fos form a dimeric complex and the discovery of leucine zippers in fos and jun spurred new work on transcription. Rauscher described the attempt to inhibit oncogenic cell growth, using transdominant mutant dimerizing proteins. Curran provided practical career advice for Rauscher, advice that helped him define a research focus for his own lab. He set up his lab as an assistant professor at the Wistar Institute. At the end of the interview Rauscher discusses the necessity of bringing in grant money and his strategy for designing grant applications; how seeking grants fosters "tactical science"; how he identified the Wilms' tumor gene DNA-binding site; the competitiveness of experimental science; the pressures on a two-career couple; and how he attempts to design a project that is both "hypothesis driven" and capable of producing solid results. He describes how he used technology from his research on WT1 to study zinc finger proteins and how his research on Krüppel-associated box and KRAB-associated protein was funded by the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award. Rauscher concludes his interview with his explanation of the necessity for a researcher to pursue new ideas and new fields of research and with renewed emphasis on the importance of continuing basic cancer research.

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