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Oral history interview with Matthew L. Meyerson

  • 2006-Jan-17 – 2006-Jan-19

Matthew L. Meyerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the youngest of three children. His family moved several times before finally settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when Matthew was seven. His parents were both academics in city planning and then college professors. His father became president of State University of New York at Buffalo and then the University of Pennsylvania; he was the first Jewish president of a major university. His mother taught sociology and then was on Philadelphia's City Planning Commission. Meyerson's interest in science began early: he loved to collect rocks and minerals and thought he might become a geologist. His first influential teacher was his fourth-grade teacher, who had the students do science experiments. His ninth-grade biology teacher was especially inspiring. His extracurricular activities included fencing, at which he was competitive; running; and exploring the outdoors. He also played the piano. He read extensively and still loves to read. He decided early to attend Harvard University. College experiences included an overwhelming math class that cemented his resolve to become an experimental scientist, rather than a theoretical scientist. He did research on quinones during college in Leslie Dutton's laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania and on enzyme evolution in Steven Benner's laboratory at Harvard. He spent a year in Japan at the University of Kyoto and then began medical school. Meyerson entered the joint health sciences and technology graduate program at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His medical school experiences included meeting his future wife, who was also a medical student. Meyerson pursued doctoral research on cyclin-dependent kinases involved in cell-cycle regulation in Edward Harlow's laboratory at Harvard. He did his residency in clinical pathology. Meanwhile, he and his wife, by now doing her own residency in pediatrics, began their family, which eventually grew to four children. Meyerson accepted a postdoctoral fellowship on cell immortalization in Robert Weinberg's laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Here he discusses the running of the Harlow lab; the process of conducting scientific research; his collaboration with Christopher Counter at MIT on telomerase genes in yeast; and his work in cell-cycle genetics identifying human telomerase gene activity and cell immortalization. He compares Weinberg's mentoring style with his own. Meyerson accepted a position at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and set up his lab to accord with his decision to work on lung-cancer genetics. He talks about the running of his lab and about his funding history. Meyerson discusses his research on cancer genomics, functional biochemistry, and computational subtraction genetic analysis; and broader applications of his work genetically targeting drug treatment for lung cancer. Meyerson's current research is focused on genomics sequencing cancer causing mutations. He talks about the process of writing journal articles; his role in the lab and his management style; his teaching responsibilities and philosophy; science versus religion; foreign students in science; and being a principal investigator. He answers questions about the grant-writing process; how he would go about setting the national science agenda; his view of the issue of patents; and David Livingston's mentorship. Meyerson concludes by explaining his professional and personal goals and talking about the difficulty balancing family and career.

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