Oral history interview with Wilma M. Wasco

  • 2002-Oct-02 – 2002-Oct-04
Photograph of Wilma Wasco

Wilma M. Wasco was raised in Fairfield, Connecticut—a town about forty-five minutes away from New York City—the oldest of three siblings. Her father was a lawyer and had a profound love of jazz music, also, later in life, he suffered from multiple sclerosis; her mother worked for a telephone company until her children were born and then, when older, pursued an interest in her own artistic expression. Wasco loved to read and play as a child, and for a time took music lessons from a jazz-artist who was a friend of her father. Her family was close-knit: they often took day trips together around the state. After some time in parochial school, Wasco entered the public system for junior high and high schools. She first became interested in science in the eighth grade due to a teacher, Mr. Somaski, but she was still uncertain of what career she wanted to pursue. She chose to attend the University of Connecticut for her undergraduate degree. Due to registration difficulties she was unable to enroll in science classes until her sophomore year, at which point she took an honors chemistry course, interesting her in science; she chose her major (biology) in her junior year, and only then began taking biology courses. While still an undergraduate she worked for Guillermo Fallar, a neuroscientist, and Ian McClellan, biochemist, in a neurobiology laboratory and she decided to go to graduate school. She wanted to study molecular pharmacology and she applied to and was accepted at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. While there she conducted her thesis research with George A. Orr, with whom she published her first paper, on calmodulin. From New York she moved on to a postdoctoral position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working with Frank Solomon on microtubular-associated proteins, specifically identifying and characterizing amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1); during her studies she received a National Research Service Award. She then became a Research Fellow in the neurology department at Harvard University and held a joint position with Massachusetts General Hospital, at which time she was working with Rudolph E. Tanzi (Pew Scholar Class of 1993) on cloning amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1). Wasco remained at Harvard University, becoming an assistant professor researching neuronal cell death in normal and neurodegenerative cells with implications for Alzheimer's disease research, and becoming an assistant geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital. The interview ends with Wasco discussing her work on presenilin 2; her research on calsenilin and amyloid precursor-like proteins, the long- and short-term applications of her work; and her opinion of biomedical research funding in the United States. She concludes with thoughts on balancing family and career; the privatization of scientific research; competition and collaboration in science; the national agenda for science; scientists and public policy; science literacy in the United States; and the role of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences in her work.

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