William Paul, M.D., is the NIH Distinguished Investigator and Chief of the Laboratory of Immunology within the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Paul discovered and characterized the cell signaling cytokine IL-4, demonstrating that IL-4 is required for B cell production of IgE, and determined the requirements for CD4+ T cell differentiation. In an interview with JCI Editor-at-Large Ushma Neill, Paul discusses his early research experiences, as well as the influence of Michael Heidelberger on his decision to study immunology. Paul began his training in immunology in Nobel laureate Baruj Benacerraf’s lab at New York University and then moved with Bennacerraf to the NIH in 1968, where he began to focus on T and B cell biology. His lab has served as a training ground for many noted immunologists, including Laurie Glimcher, Mark Davis, and Charlie Janeway.
In the 1970s and '80s, James Rothman of Yale University bucked all advice on how to do scientific experiments and broke open cells in order to study the way that vesicles are transported. His discovery of the machinery that orchestrates the budding, fusion, and transport of vesicles is key to organelle formation, nutrient uptake, and the secretion of most hormones and neurotransmitters in the body. For this work, Rothman shared the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
David Nathan, professor at Harvard Medical School and President Emeritus of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is a renowned hematologist with contributions to the clinical treatments of β-thalassemia, sickle cell disease, and chronic granulomatous disease. Nathan also contributed to the development of the first prenatal test for hematological disorders. He’s known as the consummate clinical investigator, mentor, and a great wit. In the interview, you can hear his stories about tedious Victorian poets, success in mentoring trainees, and aspiring to write like Atul Gawande.
After a 20-year focus on the water channel aquaporin (work for which he shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry), Peter Agre has turned his attention to malaria. He currently serves as Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. In this interview, Agre displays his witty sense of humor, including vignettes related to running for Senate, dancing to the Buena Vista Social Club, and his desire to be known as the Victor Borge of science.
Since May 2012, the JCI has aired twenty-six interviews with twenty-eight notable scientists for the series Conversations with Giants in Medicine. In the highlight reel to accompany the October 2014 issue, we’ve chosen some of the most memorable vignettes from the Conversations — stories that give life to the life sciences.