Oral history interview with Ellen Puré

  • 1989-Aug-21

Ellen Puré grew up in Queens, New York, the youngest of three children. Her parents were Polish survivors of concentration camps. Her father was a carpenter who designed and built store interiors. Always interested in science and math, Ellen attended Bronx High School of Science. She chose Washington University in St. Louis, though it was outside her parents' hundred-mile limit, because it had good lab science programs for undergraduates. She started as a chemistry major but switched to biology after a class with David Kirk. As a sophomore she worked on the metabolism of prostaglandins in Philip Needleman's lab. She was intrigued by the effects of receptors on the regulation of cell growth and differentiation, the specificity and memory of the immune system, and the communication among T-cells. A talk by Ellen Vitetta on surface Ig persuaded Puré to attend graduate school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to work on IgM and IgD, exploring why there are two antigen receptors and how they differ. Next, Puré accepted a Damon Runyon Fellowship at Rockefeller University, where she worked on monoclonal antibodies and the Fc receptor. Puré continues at Rockefeller as a faculty member. Her lab has three focuses: cell surface receptors in lymphokines, memory in B-cells, and B-lymphocytes as antigen-presenting cells. Her major collaborator is Ralph Steinman. Puré talks about acquiring disparate, specific skills in order to be able to understand the whole of complex problems. She explains how the Pew grant helped her in this regard. She names people who have had a major influence on her. She describes the personal pleasure she takes in her collaborations with colleagues and students. She hopes to continue working at the bench. She aspires to a more permanent position at an excellent institution with excited, enthusiastic colleagues. She finishes the interview by describing her administrative duties and her work at Journal of Experimental Medicine.

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