Oral history interview with Robert C. De Lisle

  • 2000-Apr-10 – 2000-Apr-12

Robert C. De Lisle was born in Buffalo, New York, the fourth of seven children. His father was an electrical engineer who holds patents on several of his inventions and who, now that he is retired, is studying cosmology for fun. De Lisle credits his father with influencing him (Robert) to think, as well as to do whatever he (Robert) was interested in. A home filled with growing children becomes crowded, and Buffalo weather is not conducive to outdoor fun, so De Lisle's father built each child a small room in the basement. There Robert built models. When Heathkits became available, De Lisle's father built a color television set and a stereo. Watching and talking with his father aroused and reinforced Robert's interest in science, in how things are put together and how they work. Robert was always interested in and did well in science and math. He considers high school mostly a waste of time, but he had an inspiring math teacher (Nello Allegrezzo) and two good biology classes that cemented his desire to be a biologist. Having won a National Merit Scholarship that paid his whole tuition to any state school, De Lisle entered the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts. He lived at home, commuting daily. There he was able to indulge his love of learning, taking classes of all kinds, and, since his science classes were all lab classes, to learn that he loved working at the bench. He decided that a biology major required further education, so he applied to graduate school, entering Case Western Reserve. There he worked in the Ulrich Hopfer laboratory, doing research on the pancreas. He visited the Max-Planck Institut also. After finishing his PhD, he accepted a postdoc at the University of California at San Francisco, working with John Williams. When Williams went to the University of Michigan, De Lisle followed. At Michigan De Lisle collaborated with Motoji Kitagawa, who was studying the molecular mechanisms in exocytosis. Eventually De Lisle accepted a position at the University of Kansas Medical Center. He set up his laboratory and married Eileen Roach, who had been a technician in Williams' lab. He continues his interest in and work on the pancreas and gastrointestinal system. He is currently working on two broad projects: what muclin protein does in the exocrine pancreas; and applications to cystic fibrosis, which he points out was originally called cystic fibrosis of the pancreas. In his occasional spare time he loves to build furniture.

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