Jeffery F. Miller

Born: December 23, 1958 | Toledo, OH, US

Jeffery F. Miller grew up in Toledo, Ohio. As a child, he used his father's microscope to study bacteria and became interested in medicine. He attended Case Western Reserve University, where he studied biology and chemistry. Influenced by almost larger than life" Moselio Schaechter, Miller attended Tufts University School of Medicine. One of his rotations was with Michael Malamy, whom Miller calls the most rigorous scientist he has ever met. After a time at Stanford, Miller accepted an assistant professorship at University of California, Los Angeles, where he has developed Listeria monocytogenes as a bacterial probe and has been experimenting with viral vaccines. He discusses testing the lab's vaccines in humans, his competitors, innovative experimentation, and his study of bacterial pathogens' interaction with the immune system. "

Access This Interview

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

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0554
No. of pages: 98
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Steven J. Novak
15-17 October 1997
University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California

Abstract of Interview

Jeffery F. Miller grew up in Toledo, Ohio, the elder of two children. His father was a pediatrician, his mother a nurse and housewife. His parents were devout Roman Catholics, and religion had a strong influence on Miller: he and his father still debate the harmony between science and religion. As a child Miller went to his father's office and was able to study bacteria through a microscope; this is where his interest in medicine in general and in bacteria specifically began. A study he and his father did of Streptococcus pyogenes won him a fellowship to spend a summer studying bacterial pathogens at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Miller entered Case Western Reserve University, finishing with a double major in biology and chemistry. Here he talks about fraternity life and his love of motorcycles. Miller's first college classes were large, and he found that he enjoyed college much more when he entered C. Willard Schuster's lab to study plasmid-encoded hemolysin. It happened that he loved the lab and decided to pursue a science rather than a medical career. Most importantly, he met his future wife, Jeanette Polaschek, in college; and here he tells a little about her and her family. Influenced by Moselio Schaechter, whom he calls "almost larger than life," Miller matriculated into Tufts University School of Medicine. He discusses here his classwork and rotations at Tufts. One of his rotations was with Michael Malamy, whom Miller calls the most rigorous scientist he has ever met, and who eventually became Miller's mentor. In Malamy's lab he studied genetic regulation in E. coli. Miller explains the circumstances surrounding his entry into the Stanley Falkow lab at Stanford University School of Medicine; at Stanford he also spent a year in the Lucy S. Tompkins lab. Miller greatly admired Falkow, and in one of their discussions, Miller coined the term "the Zen of pathogenesis." He talks about his debt of gratitude to Lucy S. Tompkins; Falkow's approach to science; and the diversity of research projects in the Falkow lab. Miller studied gene regulation in Bordetella pertussis; and then Bordetella bronchiseptica in guinea pigs as a model of host-parasite interaction. Miller talks about Falkow's creativity and ability to enlist capable scientists in his lab; Falkow's success at finding jobs for his postdocs; and what it was like to serve as a bacterial genetics consultant at Affymax biotech company. Miller accepted an assistant professorship at University of California, Los Angeles, with a good start-up package. His lab personnel have been doing research on the molecular biology of transmembrane signaling; his graduate student Brian Akerley has reversed the circuitry regulating virulence and that regulating motility. Miller has developed Listeria monocytogenes as a bacterial probe and has been experimenting with viral vaccines. He discusses the prospect of testing the lab's vaccines in humans; obstacles to developing a workable vaccine; his competitors and how designing innovative experiments reduces competition between labs; his plans to study transmission of infections in vivo; and his study of bacterial pathogens' interaction with the immune system. Miller's rigorous approach to science infuses his management of his lab. Miller talks about his funding; science funding in the United States; the benefits of being a Pew scholar; his patent issues; his hopes of partially funding his own research through founding a company; the need for basic research; and how teaching and research are mutually beneficial. He then gets more specific and personal, talking about MD's in the lab; his lab's publication record and what he construes as reviewer bias in competitive biomedical fields; his own journal review procedure; lab safety and the potential dangers surrounding recent biomedical developments; and the impact their children have had on Miller and his wife. He reverts to his science, explaining the characteristics of bacteria and describing what might be new bacterial epidemics. Miller's mother's affliction with an antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain has increased his desire to find answers. As he points out, there is an increasing number of problems with bacterial food poisoning, to which biodiversity among bacteria contributes; he suggests that solutions might be derived from the E. coli genome project. Miller concludes with his philosophy of nature. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1980 Case Western Reserve University BA Chemistry and Biology
1986 Tufts University School of Medicine PhD Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

Stanford University

1985 to 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine

1990 to 1996
Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
1996 to 1998
Associate Professor
1997 to 1998
Department Vice Chairman

Honors

Year(s) Award
1980

Phi Beta Kappa

1986 to 1989

Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

1992 to 1996

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Catholicism. Science and religion. Attends a Catholic high School. Settles early on a medical career. The importance of studying Streptococcus pyogenes with his father. Receives a fellowship to spend a summer studying bacterial pathogens at the University of South Carolina School ofMedicine. Decides to attend Case Western Reserve University. Love of motorcycles.

College, Graduate School, and Postgraduate Years
12

First college classes. Charles C. Willard Schuster lab studying plasmid-encoded Hemolysin. Elects to pursue a science rather than a medical career. Meets future wife, Jeanette Polaschek. Wife's family background. Enrolls as a graduate student at Tufts University School of Medicine. Classwork and rotations. MoselioSchaechter's influence. Enters the Michael H. Malamy lab. Malamy'sscientific rigor. Studies genetic regulation in E. coli. The Stanley Falkow lab at Stanford University School of Medicine. Spends a year in the Lucy S. Tompkins lab at Stanford. The Zen of pathogenesis. " The diversity of research projects inthe Falkow lab. Studies gene regulation in Bordetella pertussis. Studies Bordetella bronchiseptica in guinea pigs as a model of host-parasite interaction. Serving as a bacterial genetics consultant at Affymax biotech company.

Faculty Years
41

Accepts an assistant professorship at UCLA. Lab personnel. Research on the molecular biology of transmembrane signaling. Brian Akerley reverses the circuitry regulating virulence and that regulating motility. Develops Listeria monocytogenes as a bacterial probe. Experiments with viral vaccines. Peggy A. Cotter's contribution. Prospect of testing the lab's vaccines in humans. Obstacles to developing a workable vaccine. Plans to study transmission of infections in vivo. Studying bacterial pathogens' interaction with the immune system. The management of his lab.

Reflections on Science in the United States
60

The current system of funding science in the United States. Benefits of being a Pew scholar. Patent issues. Hopes of partially funding his own research through founding a company. The need for basic research. Solutions to the problem of the shrinking job market in the sciences. The problem of paperwork. Utilizing MD's in the lab. Journal reviews. Family life. The characteristics of bacteria. New bacterial epidemics. Increasing problems with bacterial food poisoning. The benefits arising from the E. coligenome project. Biodiversity among bacteria. Philosophy of nature.

Index
95

"

About the Interviewer

Steven J. Novak