W. Ian Lipkin was born in Chicago, Illinois, one of three children. His parents, of Russian Jewish background, met at the New School in New York City, New York, but moved to Chicago to study at the University of Chicago, his father psychology and his mother social work. The Lipkin parents wanted their son and two daughters to be artists, but only one went into that field. The three went to public schools at first and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools for high school, as did many other children of faculty. Ian credits his teacher of fourth and fifth grades with teaching him to read and write well. In high school he had good teachers, especially in biology. Ian's father wanted him to go to Sarah Lawrence College, which he did, getting his degree in mythology and anthropology. In his third year he took a class in inorganic chemistry; this class aroused his first real interest in science. Wanting to combine his desire to study indigenous people, perhaps Native Alaskans, with his desire to be of service to people, he decided to go to medical school. After some time spent in travel, Ian matriculated into Rush University in Chicago. In his fourth year he spent some time in the Institute of Neurology in London, England; some time in the Indian Health Service in Oklahoma; and some time at Johns Hopkins University, studying infectious disease. He interned at the University of Pittsburgh, which had a rigorous schedule, so that he could see many patients. He then went to the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, for his residency in primary care internal medicine. He was sent to their satellite, a Veterans Administration hospital in Idaho. He found the experience there very intense and comprehensive. He also got married and redeveloped his interest in neurology. He then accepted a second residency at University of California, San Francisco. There he became interested in AIDS patients with neurological diseases and opened a clinic to help them. His next stop was Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, where he accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in Michael Oldstone's lab. While there he heard a talk by Opendra Narayan on Borna disease and its links to bipolar disease. When he had finished Oldstone's project he wanted to work on Borna virus, so Ian went to Michael Wilson's lab. He had to overcome much red tape to get brain samples for his study into the effects of neurotransmitter messages levels in the brains of infected mice. The pathogenesis of Borna was then being studied only at two labs in Germany and one at Johns Hopkins University; Ian took up research from the molecular biological standpoint. Next he accepted a generous assistant professorship at the University of California, Irvine. He has since progressed through associate professor to full professor and finally to Co-Director of the Markey Program in Human Biology. He hopes his Borna virus research will ultimately enable scientists to develop a tool for delivering genes and drugs to the central nervous system so that scientists may provide therapy for other neurodegenerative diseases in which Ian has become interested, especially multiple sclerosis and peripheral nerve disorders. He would like to become involved in science policy and administration, feeling it important to communicate about science with the general public; and he listens to music, goes to the beach, and hopes to become fluent in German.
The Science History Institute recognizes that the interviewee uses outdated, derogatory language throughout the interview to reference Native Alaskan peoples.
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