David E. Fisher

Born: August 28, 1957 | Perth Amboy, NJ, US

David E. Fisher grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey. Deciding to pursue a career in medicine, he attended the Curtis Institute of Music and Swarthmore College concurrently. He spent his first college summer in his father's lab and published his first paper. He also worked in Robert Weinberg's lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he discovered molecular biology and oncology. Interested in lab work, he received an MD/PhD at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and Rockefeller University. In Günter Blobel's laboratory he completed thesis projects on systemic lupus erythematosis and T-cells. He talks about funding, teaching, and minority and women students and faculty at Harvard University. His current research is on apoptosis and on microphthalmia transcription factor (Mitf) in melanocytes and osteoclasts.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0457
No. of pages: 122
Minutes: 544

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
6-8 June 2001
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

David E. Fisher grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey, the second of three children. His grandparents and their extended families had escaped Germany just in time—his grandfathers actually from camps—and settled ultimately in Chile. Some then went to Cuba and then to the United States or Israel. David's father obtained his PhD in biochemistry and nutrition from Rutgers University and then founded their department of nutrition, in which he still works. Fisher's mother became a musician and plays and teaches in the area. David and his siblings all had to learn to play piano, beginning at age five, and later a stringed instrument. David played cello, his siblings violin. His first piano and cello teachers had a strong influence on both his approach to music and his strong work ethic. Fisher was raised in the Conservative Jewish tradition, but his wife's conversion to Judaism led him to become Orthodox. Fisher attended what he calls "terrific" public schools, where he excelled. During summers he went to music camp. Fisher decided to pursue a career in medicine, attending the Curtis Institute of Music and Swarthmore College concurrently. He spent his first college summer in his father's lab, from which he published his first paper. Through Maxine Singer he obtained a summer position in Robert Weinberg's lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his third summer; here he discovered molecular biology and oncology. Although he still wanted to be a doctor, he also wanted to work in the lab, so he decided to pursue a joint MD/PhD degree at Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University and Rockefeller University. He did his residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. At the end of his residency he married. He then began his research in Henry Kunkel's immunology lab; in Günter Blobel's laboratory he completed thesis projects on systemic lupus erythematosis and T-cells. Fisher then talks about his fellowships in adult and pediatric oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children's Hospital Boston; his studies of TFEB transcription factor as a postdoctoral student in Phillip Sharp's laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and the births of his children. He then accepted a research position at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He talks about grant writing; funding; the impact of his grant from the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences; his teaching duties; and minority students and women in the graduate programs and on the faculty at Harvard University. He continues with an explanation of the makeup and management of his lab; his administrative responsibilities; publishing; traveling; clinical responsibilities; and balancing his clinical and science duties. His current research on apoptosis and on microphthalmia transcription factor (Mitf) in melanocytes and osteoclasts fills out the interview, leading to a description of a typical day for Fisher. He hopes for clinical applications of his research projects, and explains some of his future research plans. He gives us his opinions on such matters as serendipity in science, patents, competition vs. collaboration; scientific ethics; career satisfaction; and his long-term goals. He finishes with his favorite memories and his pride in his teaching award.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1979 Swarthmore College BA Biology and Chemistry
1979 Curtis Institute of Music Diploma Cello
1984 The Rockefeller University PhD Cell Biology and Immunology
1985 Weill Cornell Medical College MD

Professional Experience

Massachusetts General Hospital

1985 to 1986
Intern in Internal Medicine
1986 to 1988
Resident in Internal Medicine

Boston Children's Hospital

1989 to 1993
Fellow in Pediatric Hematology and Oncology
1992
Attending Physician, Department of Hematology/Oncology

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

1989 to 1993
Fellow in Pediatric Hematology and Oncology
1989 to 1993
Fellow in Medical Oncology
1992
Attending Physician, Department of Hematology/Oncology
1993 to 1998
Assistant Professor
1998
Associate Professor, Department of Biology

Harvard Medical School

1989 to 1993
Fellow in Pediatric Hematology and Oncology
1992
Attending Physician, Department of Hematology/Oncology
1993
Faculty Member of Biological and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program
1993 to 1998
Assistant Professor
1998
Associate Professor, Department of Biology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1990 to 1993
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Center for Cancer Research

Honors

Year(s) Award
1991 to 1993

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship for Physicians

1991

William Guy Forbeck Cancer Research Foundation Scholar-in-Residence Award

1993 to 1995

American Society of Hematology Scholar Award

1995

Pew Foundation Scholars Award

1995

McDonnell Foundation Research Scholar

1995

Charlotte Geyer Foundation Research Award

1999

Fannie E. Rippel Foundation Research Award

Table of Contents

Early Years and Attending College
1

Family background. Interest in music. Factors that affected his proficiency on the violoncello. Influential music teachers in his life. Religious upbringing. Meets future wife, Claire Y. Fung. Her conversion to the Orthodox Jewish Faith. Impact of religion on his scientific thought. Early schooling. Childhood interests in music and sports. Attends junior high and high school in Highland Park, New Jersey. Influence of Greenwood Music Camp on his life. Decides topursue a career in medicine. Applies to the Curtis Institute of Music and Swarthmore College. Attends Curtis and Swarthmore concurrently.

First Research Experiences and Pursuing an MD/PhD
24

Initial scientific research in Hans Fisher's laboratory. Influence of Maxine F. Singer on his career. Works during summer in Robert A. Weinberg's laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Decides to pursue a joint MD/PhD degree at Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University and RockefellerUniversity. Does residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Begins research in Henry G. Kunkel's immunology laboratory. Completes thesis projects on systemic lupus erythematosis and T cells in Günter Blobel's laboratory. Considers specializing in cardiology. Meets David G. Nathan. Fellowships in adult and pediatric oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children's Hospital Boston.

Postdoctoral Work and Becoming Faculty
43

Studies TFEB transcription factor as a postdoctoral student in Phillip A. Sharp's laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Birth of his children. Accepts a research position at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The grant-writing process. Funding history. Impact of Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant. Teaching duties. Harvard University. Fisher's lab. Laboratorymanagement style. Mentoring style. Administrative responsibilities and community service. Process of writing journal articles

Clinical and Scientific Work
70

Communication style. Balancing clinical and basic science responsibilities. Leisure activities. A typical day. Current research on apoptosis and on microphthalmia transcription factor (Mitf) in melanocytes and osteoclasts.

Reflections on Science and Medicine
85

Clinical applications of basic research projects. Future research plans. Patents. Scientific ideas. Serendipity in science. Knowing the history of science for designing new experiments. Competition and collaboration in science. Personal goals. Career he would pursue if he were not a scientist. Long term goals. Favorite remembrances. Teaching award.

Index
119

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen