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Oral history interview with Arul M. Chinnaiyan

  • 2008-Oct-21 – 2008-Oct-22

Arul M. Chinnaiyan was born near Cleveland, Ohio, but spent his first years in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, the elder of two sons whose parents came from India. His father was an electrical engineer, his mother a housewife. When Chinnaiyan was about thirteen the family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his father had taken a job. Chinnaiyan had always liked the sciences, but his high school biology teacher made the subject come alive. He was also interested in computers and sports, especially tennis, playing on his high school team. By his junior year in high school, Chinnaiyan says he knew he wanted to study molecular biology or cell biology. Because it was a good school for biology; because it was close to home; because his father was ill with diabetes; and because the tuition was manageable, Chinnaiyan decided to attend the University of Michigan. He worked in Stephen Weiss's lab during summers and part time during the school year. There he worked on proteases in neutrophils with his mentor. Chinnaiyan's father died while Chinnaiyan was in college; this helped him decide to enter the Medical Scientist Training Program at University of Michigan to obtain an MD/PhD. He began in Jeffrey Bonadio's lab, where he learned molecular biology, but he became fascinated by apoptosis and joined Vishva Dixit's lab at a time when the field of apoptosis was growing rapidly. From his research came the discovery of FADD, as well as twenty-one publications, some of which he had to hand deliver in order to beat his competitors. After three years of research, Peter Ward persuaded him to complete his residency in clinical pathology at the University of Michigan. He established his lab and became interested in studying biomarkers for prostate cancer. He started a DNA microarray facility too. Chinnaiyan remained at Michigan as an assistant professor in pathology and urology. He established the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology. He had not been trained to write grants, but he made up for lost time, winning many awards and honors and becoming a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. At the end of the interview he talks about learning to write grants and discusses his application for the Pew Scholars in the Medical Sciences award. He describes how he recruits students and postdocs; talks about publishing; and talks about lab time. He concludes his interview with thanks to his mother, who helped make all his work possible.

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