Oral history interview with Yusuf A. Hannun

  • 1993-Mar-29 – 1993-Mar-30
  • 1993-Apr-01 – 1993-Apr-02
Photograph of Yosef A. Hannun

Yusuf A. Hannun was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, though raised after the age of five in Beirut, Lebanon, the eldest of three siblings. His father was a medical officer in the British Army during the World War II and later became a physician at the Arabian-American Oil Company (ARAMCO) stationed in Saudi Arabia and then started his own private practice in Lebanon. Hannun's parents believed wholeheartedly in education; Hannun attended the International College in Beirut for his studies. He always excelled in school and had a broad-based education with an emphasis, and an interest for Hannun, in the sciences and mathematics. He was an avid reader and a competitive swimmer, and he knew from a young age that he was going to pursue a career in medicine, even if it served as a fallback to some other area of study. Hannun began to notice political tensions within the country at the end of high school, and subconsciously decided to undertake his career abroad. He studied medicine at the American University of Beirut, specializing in internal medicine. He decided not to stay in the Middle East and took a subspecialty in oncology/hematology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, at which point he decided to focus on biomedical research. He studied the connection between protein kinase C and diacylglycerol with James E. Neidel and Robert M. Bell, after which he received a National Institutes of Health Physician Scientist Award and began his work on sphingolipids and protein kinase C while remaining at Duke. Much of the interview is spent discussing the cultural, social, and political life of Lebanon, the civil war, and Hannun's comparison of life in the United States to life in Lebanon, and some time is spent discussing the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The interview concludes with Hannun's thoughts on labs that combine a structural and functional approach to science; the justification for doing basic research; his Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award; and the politics of funding. He ends with a discussion of National Institutes of Health peer reviewers; his research on protein kinase C; his family; his collaboration with his wife, Lina Obeid Hannun; and women and minorities in science.

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