Stephen J. Elledge

Born: August 7, 1956 | Paris, IL, US
Photo of Stehen J. Elledge

Stephen J. Elledge was born in Paris, Illinois.  As a child, he played with chemistry kits, made rockets, and joined his high school chemistry team. He studied chemistry at the University of Illinois, the first of his family to attend college, then went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked in Graham Walker’s lab, combining molecular biology and genetics, and becoming interested in cloning. Stanford University offered him a postdoc in Ronald Davis’ lab, where he researched how cyclin-dependent kinases that run the cell cycle were regulated. Elledge accepted an assistant professorship at Baylor College of Medicine, where he still works today.  He has brought technological advances to genetics and discovered inhibitor molecules, especially the tumor suppressor p21, the first mammaliam inhibitor.

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0431
No. of pages: 122
Minutes: 500

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
16-18 August 1995
Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

Abstract of Interview

Stephen J. Elledge was born in Paris, Illinois. He had two older sisters and an older half sister. He attended Roman Catholic elementary school but rebelled against the religious teaching and switched to public schools. From a young age, he was interested in science; Elledge’s grandmother bought him chemistry kits, and he made rockets. Elledge’s high school had very good science and mathematics classes, and he loved chemistry (“fun” he calls it). He was on the chemistry team, on which he won the individual and team competitions. 

He was the first in his family to go to college, and he did not have enough guidance to know what he could or should do, so he entered the University of Illinois intending to major  in chemical engineering. He won the chemical engineering prize as a freshman, but then switched his major to chemistry. By his junior year he’d taken all the chemistry courses, and recombinant DNA was just becoming the hot topic in biology, so when he went to University of Southampton for his junior year he took a genetics course. During his senior year he took a biochemistry class, which he found combined chemistry and his new interest in biology, and he officially switched to biology for graduate school. He decided to apply to Harvard University for graduate school, but he ended up going to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which people said was the best place in the world. There he worked in Graham Walker’s lab, combining molecular biology and genetics. He did his first cloning there and became interested in methodologies for cloning.

Stanford University offered him a postdoc in Ronald Davis’ lab, where he first began work in plants, but soon switched to yeast. He became convinced that it was important to find out how cyclin-dependent kinases that run the cell cycle were regulated, with a view toward an intersection between cell cycle and cancer. While at Stanford Elledge met his future wife, Mitzi Kuroda, herself a scientist.

Elledge accepted an assistant professorship at Baylor College of Medicine, where he has since advanced to associate and then full professor. He has brought some technological advances to genetics, and he and his lab discovered inhibitor molecules, especially the tumor suppressor p21, the first mammaliam inhibitor. It was a new field then, but in the few years since publication, Elledge estimates that others have published perhaps a hundred papers on the subject. Elledge himself has continued his interest in what these molecules actually do, now that they have mostly been found. He has been selected a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Associate Investigator; he continues to publish; he has won numerous awards, including the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences Award. Most importantly, he attempts to balance his life at work with his life at home with his wife and two children.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1978 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign BSc Chemistry
1983 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Biology

Professional Experience

Stanford University

1984 to 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow

Baylor College of Medicine

1989 to 1993
Assistant Professor
1993 to 1995
Associate Professor
1995 to 1996
Professor

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

1993 to 1996
Associate Investigator

Honors

Year(s) Award
1974 to 1978

Illinois State Scholar

1974 to 1978

James Scholar

1975

Monsanto Scholarship-Freshman Chemical Engineering Award

1976

Chemical Industries Council Scholarship-Sophomore Chemistry Award

1977

Elliot Richie Alexander Award

1977

Eta Sigma Phi Honorary Fraternity

1978

Senior Chemistry Award, Phi Lambda Upsilon

1978

Bronze Tablet, University of Illinois

1984 to 1987

Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship

1987 to 1989

American Cancer Society Senior Fellow

1991 to 1995

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences

1994

Michael E. DeBakey, MD, Award for Research Excellence

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Growing up in small-town Midwest. Early interest in science. Early interest in science. Chemistry kits. Chemistry team in high school. Detasseling corn.

College Years
22

Matriculates at University of Illinois. Majors in chemical engineering and wins chemical engineering prize, but switches to chemistry after first year. Summer jobs. Loves learning, especially mathematics and chemistry. Straight A's. Junior year at University of Southampton in Southampton, England. Becomes interested in genetics. Comparison of English and American systems. Finishes in three and one-half years but stays at school. Takes biochemistry.

Graduate School Years
68

Switches to biology. Enters Massachusetts Institute of Technology,"the best place anywhere." Studies genetics. Graham Walker's lab. Cloning. New technologies for cloning. Finishes PhD in four years. Spends an extra year at MIT.

Postgraduate Years
82

Accepts postdoc at Stanford University in Ronald Davis lab. Decides he is not interested in plants and switches to yeast. Meets future wife, Mitzi Kuroda. Cell-cycle regulation. DNA damage response. Marries.

Faculty Years
92

Accepts assistant professorship at Baylor College of Medicine. Moves through associate professorship to full professorship. Tumor suppressor p21. Continuing importance of cyclin-dependent kinase 2. Competition and collaboration. Sexism in science. Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award. Otherawards. Cell cycle and cancer. Writing grants. Publishing ("rat race"). Managing his lab. Balancing life with wife and two children with life in the lab.

Index
119

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan