Gokhan S. Hotamisligil

Born: June 24, 1962 | Pazar, TR
Photo of Gokhan S. Hotamisligil

Gökhan S. Hotamisligil was born in the town of Pazar, on the Northern cost of Turkey. Growing up in small towns, he learned much from his family intellectually, socially, and culturally in his early years. He then attended a public boarding school where curriculum was intense but his science classes did not offer much experimentation experience. After college he attended Ankara University for his medical degree, after which he served in Eastern Turkey as a public physician where his view of society and medicine begun to transform. Subsequently, he returned to Ankara University where he specialized in pediatrics and became interested in human genetics. His wife's scholarship to the Shriver Center for Mental Retardation gave him the opportunity to continue his medical training and work in Xandra O. Breakefield's laboratory at Harvard Medical School. During these years, he was fascinated by basic science and metabolism decided to undertake graduate research at Harvard on adipocyte metabolism, obesity and insulin resistance which shaped his future career. He set up his own lab at Harvard School of Public Health and built a program to explore the interactions between metabolism and immunity and how these interactions contribute to chronic metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. He discusses his early life story, the national scientific agenda, science and public policy, and his own current research.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0593
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
12 and 13 December 2002
Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Gökhan S. Hotamisligil was born in the small town of Pazar on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, the youngest of three siblings. He moved several times when young, attending at least three separate elementary schools, though he spent most of his youth in the city of Ankara. His father was a physician who served underdeveloped areas of Turkey (hence the early travel); his mother was trained as a teacher but spent her time raising Hotamisligil, his brother, and his sister. Hotamisligil learned much from his family intellectually, socially, and culturally, and from the private boarding school he attended for middle and high schools in Ankara. He was a varsity athlete in high school (track and field, volleyball, and table tennis) and was interested in his studies, though his science classes did not provide him with much experience in experimentation. He wanted to be a physician from an early age. He took the entrance exam for and attended Ankara University to obtain his medical degree during a time of political upheaval in Turkey (the 1980 military coup). Hotamisligil decided to specialize in pediatrics and was fortunate to have his residency at Ankara University instead of serving his compulsory government service in the remote town of Bingöl. While at Ankara, he became interested in genetics while preparing a seminar on the molecular basis of thalassemia. His wife's scholarship to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center for Mental Retardation in Massachusetts gave him the opportunity to apply for a position in Xandra O. Breakefield's laboratory at Harvard Medical School. Hotamisligil's work on monoamine oxidases in Breakefield's lab led him to apply for graduate study at Harvard; he undertook his graduate research on tumor necrosis factor, obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes in Bruce M. Spiegelman's laboratory. He remained there for a postdoctoral fellowship until accepting an offer for a position at the Harvard School of Public Health. After setting up his lab, he began his work on the molecular mechanisms of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and began to think about studying the connections between the immune and metabolic systems, the inflammatory response, and disease. The interview ends with reflections on role of serendipity in his work; the process of writing grants and journal articles; and balancing family and career. Hotamisligil concludes the oral history with thoughts about the direction of the national scientific agenda; the role of the scientist in shaping public policy; the industrialization of science; and the role of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences for his previous and current work.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1986 Ankara University Medical School MD
1994 Harvard Medical School PhD Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

Professional Experience

Harvard Medical School

1988 to 1989
Research Fellow, Neuro-genetics
1994 to 1995
Postdoctoral Fellow, Cell Biology

Harvard University School of Public Health

1995
Assistant Professor, Department of Nutrition
1999
Associate Professor, Department of Nutrition
2003
Professor, Department of Nutrition
2003
Professor, Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases
2003
Chair, Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases

Honors

Year(s) Award
1989

Harvard University, Division of Medical Sciences Predoctoral Fellowship

1991

Lucille P. Markey Predoctoral Fellowship in Developmental Biology

1994

American Diabetes Association Postdoctoral Fellowship

1996 to 1999

Career Development Award, American Diabetes Association

1997 to 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

2003 to 2006

Sandler Family Foundation Sr. Investigator Award, Program for Asthma Research

2003

James Stevens Simmons Endowed Professorship in Genetics & Metabolism

2004

Elected Member, TUBA, Turkish National Academy of Sciences and Recipient, TUBITAK Science Award

Table of Contents

Early Life
1

Early education. Parents. Siblings. Private boarding school in Ankara, Turkey. Extracurricular activities. Influential teachers and science classes. His wife and children. Religion. Parental expectations. The political situation in Turkey during his early college and medical school years.

Undergraduate and Medical School Years
27

Ankara University. Meeting his future wife. Specializing in pediatric medicine. Fellowship in pediatrics. Compulsory government service in Bingöl, Turkey. Residency at Ankara University. Interest in genetics. His wife's scholarship to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center for Mental Retardation in Massachusetts. Xandra O. Breakefield at Harvard Medical School.

Graduate Work, Postdoctoral Studies, and Harvard School of Public Health
39

First impressions of the United States. Work on monoamine oxidases. Graduate school at Harvard University. Bruce M. Spiegelman. Doctoral research on tumor necrosis factor, obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes. Postdoctoral fellowship in Spiegelman's lab. Position at the Harvard School of Public Health. Setting up his laboratory. Research on the molecular mechanisms of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

His Laboratory at the Harvard School of Public Health
52

Lab management style. His children. Practical applications of his research. Teaching responsibilities and travel commitments. The grant-writing process. Journal articles. Balancing family and career. Leisure activities. Patents. The source of his ideas for scientific research. Tenure at Harvard. Competition and collaboration in research.

Final Thoughts
80

The direction of the national scientific agenda. The role of the scientist in shaping public policy. Women in the sciences. Gender issues in science. The impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Funding history. Improving the quality of science.

Index
93

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten