W. Ian Lipkin

Born: November 18, 1952 | Chicago, IL, US

W. Ian Lipkin was born in Chicago, Illinois and studied anthropology at Sarah Lawrence College, though a class on inorganic chemistry aroused an interest in science. Wanting to combine his interest in primitive people with his desire to be of service, he attended medical school, studying infectious diseases. During his residency with the University of Washington, he was sent to a Veterans Administration hospital in Idaho, an experience he found to be intense. While at University of California, San Francisco, he became interested in AIDS patients with neurological diseases. After a postdoc at Scripps Research Institute, he accepted an assistant professorship at University of California, Irvine, where he is now Co-Director of the Markey Program in Human Biology. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0565
No. of pages: 159
Minutes: 503

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
14, 17, 27 July and 3, 7 August 1995
Lipkin's Home, Laguna Beach, California and University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California

Abstract of Interview

W. Ian Lipkin was born in Chicago, Illinois, one of three children. His parents, of Russian Jewish background, met at the New School in New York City, New York, but moved to Chicago to study at the University of Chicago, his father psychology and his mother social work. The Lipkin parents wanted their son and two daughters to be artists, but only one went into that field. The three went to public schools at first and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools for high school, as did many other children of faculty. Ian credits his teacher of fourth and fifth grades with teaching him to read and write well. In high school he had good teachers, especially in biology. Ian's father wanted him to go to Sarah Lawrence College, which he did, getting his degree in mythology and anthropology. In his third year he took a class in inorganic chemistry; this class aroused his first real interest in science. Wanting to combine his desire to study primitive people, perhaps Eskimos, with his desire to be of service to people, he decided to go to medical school. After some time spent in travel, Ian matriculated into Rush University in Chicago. In his fourth year he spent some time in the Institute of Neurology in London, England; some time in the Indian Health Service in Oklahoma; and some time at Johns Hopkins University, studying infectious disease. He interned at the University of Pittsburgh, which had a rigorous schedule, so that he could see many patients. He then went to the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, for his residency in primary care internal medicine. He was sent to their satellite, a Veterans Administration hospital in Idaho. He found the experience there very intense and comprehensive. He also got married and redeveloped his interest in neurology. He then accepted a second residency at University of California, San Francisco. There he became interested in AIDS patients with neurological diseases and opened a clinic to help them. His next stop was Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, where he accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in Michael Oldstone's lab. While there he heard a talk by Opendra Narayan on Borna disease and its links to bipolar disease. When he had finished Oldstone's project he wanted to work on Borna virus, so Ian went to Michael Wilson's lab. He had to overcome much red tape to get brain samples for his study into the effects of neurotransmitter messages levels in the brains of infected mice. The pathogenesis of Borna was then being studied only at two labs in Germany and one at Johns Hopkins University; Ian took up research from the molecular biological standpoint. Next he accepted a generous assistant professorship at the University of California, Irvine. He has since progressed through associate professor to full professor and finally to Co-Director of the Markey Program in Human Biology. He hopes his Borna virus research will ultimately enable scientists to develop a tool for delivering genes and drugs to the central nervous system so that scientists may provide therapy for other neurodegenerative diseases in which Ian has become interested, especially multiple sclerosis and peripheral nerve disorders. He would like to become involved in science policy and administration, feeling it important to communicate about science with the general public; and he listens to music, goes to the beach, and hopes to become fluent in German. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1974 Sarah Lawrence College BA
1978 Rush University MD

Professional Experience

Scripps Research Institute

1984 to 1990
Postdoctoral Fellow

US Indian Health Service

General Medical Officer

University of Pittsburgh

1978 to 1979

University of Washington

1979 to 1981

University of California, San Francisco

1981 to 1984

University of California, Irvine

1990 to 1993
Assistant Professor
1990 to 1993
Associate Professor
1993 to 1996
1994 to 1996
Co-Director, Markey Program in Human Biology


Year(s) Award
1984 to 1987

Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Multiple Sclerosis Society


President, Society of Fellows, Scripps Research Institute

1987 to 1992

Clinical Investigator Development Award, National Institutes of Health


Young Investigator Award, National Alliance for Research on
Schizophrenia and Depression

1991 to 1995

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

Table of Contents

Early Years

Born in Chicago, Illinois. Family background. Bar Mitzvah. Parents' and sisters' professions. Schools. Fellow students children of other famous academics. Early interest in mythology and anthropology. Liked to read.

College Years

Went to Sarah Lawrence College at instigation of father. Loved college. Degree in cultural anthropology. First interested in science in third year, in inorganic chemistry class. Decides on medical school so as to be able to help people he studies. Travels in Europe.

Medical School Years

Entered Rush University in Chicago. Made up all the science he had not taken. In fourth year went to Institute of Neurology in London; Indian Health Service in Oklahoma; and Johns Hopkins University. Internship at University of Pittsburgh. Wide variety and large number of patients.

Residency Years

Accepts residency in primary care internal medicine at University of Washington. Sent to satellite Veterans Administration hospital in Idaho. Intense and comprehensive experience. Marries. Becomes interested again in neurology.

Second Residency Years

Offered position in neurology at University of California, San Francisco. Became interested in AIDS. Opens clinic for neurological diseases in AIDS patients. Treats with plasmapheresis. Two weeks at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Fellowship Years

Enters Michael Oldstone's lab. Hears talk by Opendra Narayan on Borna disease's connection to bipolar disease. Goes to Michael Wilson's lab. Competition from another lab. Personality traits of scientists.

Faculty Years

Accepts assistant professorship at University of California, Irvine. Lab management and composition. Difficulty of balancing work and relaxation. Importance of people with both clinical and scientific experience. Responsibilities: teaching and committees. Funding. Collaboration. Interest in science policy and administration. Communicating with the public about science. Desire to become fluent in German. Hoping to visit the beach.


About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan