Oral history interview with Markus Stoffel

  • 2002-Oct-14 – 2002-Oct-16
Photograph of Markus Stoffel
Markus Stoffel

Markus Stoffel was born and raised in Cologne, Germany, the second youngest of four siblings. His father was a professor and the chairman of the Department of Biochemistry of the Universitat zu Köln in Cologne; his mother received a degree in sociology while in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His family was very close and enjoyed reading, music, theater, and other facets of an intellectual and cultural life, often hosting scientists and other academics at their home. Stoffel received the standard Gymnasium education (about which he speaks at length), was interested in science from an early age, and had the opportunity to spend a high school year abroad in Cambridge, England—where he was struck by the specialization of the educational system and the teaching—which proved quite formative.

After deciding on a career in science/medicine, Stoffel began his studies at Rheinische Friedrich-Willhelms-Universitat in Bonn, Germany, but he was drawn back to England, specifically Cambridge University, for three years (two years of coursework and a year of laboratory research under Anthony Minson), before returning to Bonn, Germany, for his clinical training. He encountered many influential and high-profile scientists while at Cambridge, which is also where he learned genetic research while working on cytomegalovirus at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute under Anthony Minson and Geoffrey L. Smith. After receiving his degree in Bonn, Stoffel took an internship position at the University of Hamburg in Germany before taking another at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in New York. After his two internships, a budding interest in the growing research regarding the genetics of diabetes, and a recommendation from a family friend, Purnell W. Choppin, Stoffel applied to the University of Chicago, where he received a position and worked under Graeme I. Bell on candidate genes involved in diabetes. Upon finishing his postdoctoral research, he accepted a position at the Rockefeller University, continuing work on the chromosome 20 project he had begun while in Bell's lab and also looking at the genes and transcription factors involved in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes.

At the end of the interview, Stoffel details his current research as well as what paths his research may take in the future, including large-scale genetic studies on diabetes in the island population of Kosrae and research on development and differentiation in the pancreatic beta cell. He also discusses broader issues of science, including: collaboration and competition in his research area; the grant-writing process; and funding systems in both the United States and Europe. Stoffel talks in depth about his position at the Rockefeller University, his teaching responsibilities, and his patents; he additionally discusses how this work life is balanced with his family life. After making more comparisons between scientific ethical issues in the United States and Europe, he expands on that idea and talks about the ethical issues of gene therapy and stem cell research. He concludes the interview by relating his professional and personal goals and noting the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on his work.

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