William A. Muller

Born: October 22, 1953 | New York City, NY, US

William A. Muller was born in Manhattan, and as a child wanted to cure death" by studying medicine. He describes his undergraduate curriculum at Harvard and his experience purifying DNA under lab director Lynn C. Klotz. Feeling that clinical and research work should complement each other, Muller attended Rockefeller University-Cornell University Medical College M.D./Ph.D. program. He talks about his clinical training, his residency, and the practical nature of medical education. He studied endothelial cells in the Michael A. Gimbrone Jr. lab. His experimental methods included testing the validity of the data on slaughterhouse aortas. Although he was anxious at first about returning to his first graduate-school lab, Muller accepted a position at Rockefeller University. He now studies proteins that mediate monocyte binding and transmigration. "

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0578
No. of pages: 170
Minutes: 550

Interview Sessions

Neil D. Hathaway
6, 14, 24, 28 May 1993
Rockefeller University, New York, New York and Interviewee's Home, New York, New York

Abstract of Interview

William A. Muller was born in Manhattan but grew up on Long Island; he is the oldest of three brothers, among whom might be found typical sibling rivalry. He is of Jewish ancestry, but his parents and his extended family are not especially observant. Muller had a childhood fear of dying that led him to want to "cure death"; he began to think of medicine as a career from that early age. He did well in school, being salutatorian in his high school. He believes, though, that his youngest brother is the most intelligent, and he discusses Toby's academic career. When Muller entered Harvard University he was shocked at the intense level of competition there. He describes his undergraduate curriculum and his experience purifying DNA under lab director Lynn C. Klotz. He also ran track and cross country. During his college summers he participated in a vaccination project in Central America. Feeling that clinical and research work should complement each other, Muller chose to attend the Rockefeller University-Cornell University Medical College MD/PhD program. At that time the draft was still an important factor in Muller's life. David Baltimore came to Rockefeller at this time, and transforming the nature of the Rockefeller community. Muller decided to work in the Zanvil A. Cohn/James Hirsch lab, where he actually worked with Ralph M. Steinman on endocytosis-iodination techniques. He explains showing that membrane recycles and describes the reaction of the scientific community. He talks about his clinical training in medical school and the practical nature of medical education. He accepted a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and began a pathology residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Muller talks about his social life during medical school and residency; how residencies differ; how clinical experience enhances research; the empirical nature of medicine; and the importance of basic research. He studied endothelial cells in the Michael A. Gimbrone Jr. lab, showing that angiotensin converting enzyme is apically polarized. His experimental methods included testing the validity of the data on slaughterhouse aortas. He took a monoclonal antibody approach and brought biochemical expertise to the Gimbrone lab. Muller discusses his work examining how leukocytes bind to endothelial cells and his fellow Pew scholars who work on endothelial cells. His research on cell adhesion molecules led to his discovery that PECAM-1 is required for transendothelial migration of leukocytes; this discovery may have clinical application. He continued researching multiple functions of PECAM and searching for unknown adhesion molecules. Although he was anxious at first about returning to his first graduate-school lab, Muller accepted a position at Rockefeller University and in pathology at Weill Cornell Medical College. His first grant application rejected, Muller shifted the focus of his research; he now studies proteins that mediate monocyte binding and transmigration. Muller concludes his interview with a discussion of the process of scientific discovery, especially as he experienced it while establishing the role of PECAM in endothelial cell adhesion; and an explanation of the significance of the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award and the RJR Nabisco Research Scholars Award in his career development. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1975 Harvard University BA Biology
1981 The Rockefeller University PhD Cell Physiology and Immunology
1982 Cornell University MD

Professional Experience

The Rockefeller University

1987 to 1994
Assistant Professor, Laboratory of Cellular Physiology and Immunology

Weill Medical College of Cornell University

1987 to 1994
Adjunct Professor, Department of Pathology

New York Hospital, Cornell University Medical School

1987 to 1994
Assistant Attending Pathologist

Honors

Year(s) Award
1972 to 1975

John Harvard Scholarship, Harvard University

1973

Jacob Wendel Scholarship, Harvard University

1975

Arthur Eugene Sutherland Prize, Harvard University

1975

American Chemical Society (Northeast Section) Research Award

1975

Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard University

1976

Sigma Xi, Rockefeller University

1988 to 1992

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1988

RJR Nabisco Research Scholars Award

1990

Irvington Institute for Medical Research New Initiatives Award

1994

Established Investigatorship, American Heart Association

Table of Contents

Pew Scholars Program Proposal
1

Results of Muller's Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences proposal on the platelet/endothelial cell adhesion molecule (PECAM). Paper on the findings. Losing the race to publish on in vivo PECAM.

Early Years and Comment on Current Career
14

Childhood in Manhattan and Long Island. Jewish ancestry. Parents. Extended family. Brothers. Sibling rivalry. Working hours. Frantic pace of scientific research. Research philosophy. Early education.

High School, College, and Graduate School
41

Why he went into science. Toby Muller. Academic performance in junior high and high school. Volunteer work in Brookdale Hospital laboratory. Attends Harvard University. Shock at the intense level of competition at Harvard. Antiwar protests. Community involvement. Undergraduate curriculum and lab experience. Lab director Lynn C. KlotzPurifying DNA. Participates in a vaccination project in Central America. Public debate about recombinant DNAresearch. Enters the RockefellerUniversity-Cornell University Medical College M.D./Ph.D. program. Vietnam War and the draft. David Baltimore's changes at Rockefeller. Decides to work in the Zanvil A. Cohn-James Hirsch lab. Working with Ralph M. Steinman--Becoming an independent researcher. Research on endocytosis. Iodination techniques. Consults with Bruce Merrifield. Learning that membrane recycles. Reaction of the scientific community.

More on Graduate School Research and Clinical Training
95

Encourages graduate students to tackle tough problems and develop their own Methods. Amorphous shape of graduate education at Rockefeller. Iodinating Phagolysosomes. Experiments that are ahead of their time. Mistakenly assumes phagolysosome experiments were unsuccessful. Clinical training in medical school. Practical nature of medical education. Residency at MassachusettsGeneral Hospital. Pathology residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Social life. How residencies differ. How clinical experience enhances research. Empirical nature of medicine. Importance of basic research. Studies endothelial cells in the Michael A. Gimbrone Jr. lab.

Work on PECAM and Faculty Years
124

Showing that angiotensin converting enzyme is apically polarized. Experimental methods. Testing the validity of the data on slaughterhouse aortas. Takes a monoclonal antibody approach. Brings biochemical expertise to the Gimbrone lab. Examining how leukocytes bind to endothelial cells. Pew scholars who work on endothelial cells. Bond between scholars who trained in the same lab. Research on cell adhesion molecules. Discovery that PECAM-1 is required for transendothelial migration of leukocytesPossible clinical application. Multiple functions of PECAM. Redundant adhesion mechanisms. Searching forunknown adhesion molecules. Return to New York City and Rockefeller University. Shifts the focus of his research. Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. Studies proteins which mediate monocyte binding and transmigration. Significance of the Pew award and the RJR Nabisco Research Scholars Award in career development. The process of scientific discovery.

Index
167

About the Interviewer

Neil D. Hathaway