Stephen M. Denning

Born: March 19, 1954 | Murphy, NC, US

Stephen M. Denning was born in rural North Carolina, where he loved to read about scientists and grew interested in chemistry and biology. He received a B.S. in chemistry from Duke University. An emeritus professor of chemistry, Marcus Hobbs, convinced him to go into medicine, as there would be more breakthroughs in that field. Denning attended Duke Medical School where he did research with Sheldon Pinnell on collagen antibodies; he then did his internship and residency at University of Chicago. He accepted a fellowship in cardiology under Joseph C. Greenfield at Duke University, where he has remained. His greatest interest is in the intersection between his clinical work and his research on molecular mechanisms and their therapeutic or interventional value.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0480
No. of pages: 114
Minutes: 500

Interview Sessions

23-25 August 1995
Duke University Medical Center Durham, North Carolina

Abstract of Interview

Stephen M. Denning was born in Murphy, North Carolina, a small town in the foothills of the Appalachians, and “about as far west in North Carolina as you could go”; he grew up in nearby Rutherfordton.  Both parents were teachers, and his one sibling, a younger brother, became a teacher—of biology—as well.  From an early age, Denning was attracted to science; he remembers being enthralled by Sputnik and the United States’ subsequent space program.  Denning loved to read, especially about science.  Biographies of scientists like Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur—and of course a chemistry set—encouraged his interest in chemistry and physics.  He also evinced an early interest in electronics and took up photography as a hobby as well; this hobby he pursues today, when he has time.  He was selected for several programs established to enrich education for gifted children, including the Governor’s School in Winston-Salem, and found that in high school he tended to know more of some subjects (especially mathematics) than the teachers; but he had one outstanding teacher, for biology, who really inspired him.  For fun, Denning and his family hiked and camped; Denning played touch football and built rockets.  When he was in high school, on weekends and after school he worked in a hospital, where he drew blood and learned to analyze it.

Denning attended Duke University, receiving his BS in chemistry.  The chemistry majors of his year formed a close-knit group, doing lab work and generally working together, unlike in the biology department, where competition was more prevalent.  Denning applied to graduate schools in chemistry and to medical schools, unsure which course he wanted to pursue.  An emeritus professor of chemistry, Marcus Hobbs, convinced him to go into medicine, as there would be more breakthroughs and discoveries in that field than in chemistry.  Denning attended Duke Medical School; there he did research with Sheldon Pinnell on collagen antibodies; and then he did his internship and residency at University of Chicago.  In Chicago he met his wife, Judith J. Johnson, a nurse in a medical intensive care unit. He then accepted a fellowship in cardiology under Joseph C. Greenfield at Duke University, where he has remained.  He joined Barton Haynes’ laboratory where he began research into the development of T cells in the human fetus and in immune response in general.  His greatest interest is in the intersection between his clinical work and his research on molecular mechanisms and their therapeutic or interventional value.  Denning continues to balance family—his wife, Judith, a nurse anesthetist now, and two young sons—and his work; to attempt to interest medical students in research; and to seek funding for ever more research.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1976 Duke University BS
1980 Duke University MD

Professional Experience

University of Chicago Hospitals

1980 to 1981
Intern
1981 to 1983
Resident

Duke University Medical Center

1983 to 1984
Clinical Fellow, Division of Cardiology
1985 to 1987
Research Fellow, Division of Cardiology

Duke University

1987 to 1989
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
1989 to 1996
Associate Professor, Department of Medicine

Honors

Year(s) Award
1976

Phi Beta Kappa

1987

Clinician Scientist Award, American Heart Association

1990 to 1994

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Family Background
1

Growing up in western North Carolina. Childhood interest in science. Involvement in programs for gifted students. High school classes. Part-time work in a clinical laboratory. Denning's first chemistry set. Interest in electronics and photography. Parents' expectations regarding education.

College Years
18

Decides to attend Duke University. Relationship with other chemistry majors. Senior thesis on the mathematics of molecular structures.

Medical School
26

Remains at Duke for medical school. Medical school rotations. Research with Sheldon R. Pinnell on collagen antibodies--Internship and residency at University of Chicago. Meets wife, Judith J. Johnson. Decides to specialize in cardiology under Joseph C. Greenfield. Duties of cardiology fellows at Duke.

Post-Graduate Work
43

Arranges to do research in the Barton F. Haynes's laboratory. Development of T cells in the human fetus. Mitosis in thymocytes. Mitogens and antigens in immune response. Role of epithelial cells in thymocyte mitosis. CD4+ cells, CD8+ cells, and CD4+CD8 cells. Interleukins 1 and 2 in thymocyte mitosis. Collaboration withTimothy A. Springer on role of lymphocyte function-associated antigens in binding together epithelial cells and developing lymphocytes. Isolating stem cells. Importance of purity. Natural killer cells from TN cells.

Continuing Life in the Lab
61

Collaboration with Haynes. Structure and atmosphere of Denning's lab. Clinical duties. Intersections of Denning's clinical work and his research. Collaboration with Rebecca H. Buckley. Experiments with CD3 in hopes of finding the genetic switch that regulates T cell development. Research on terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase and lymphocyte splicing. Current directions of Denning's T cell research. Further projects on interleukin 2 and adhesion molecules.

Funding and General Thoughts
71

Denning's Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award. His other funding sources. His family life. Efforts to expose medical students to the world of research. Research on molecular mechanisms that will affect the practice of clinical medicine. Funding problems in the scientific community. Current research questions in the field of immunology. Difficulties minorities and women face in becoming researchers. Johnson's career as a nurse anesthetist.

Index
111

About the Interviewer

Marcia L. Meldrum