Stephen R. J. Salton

Born: September 1, 1955 | Cambridge, GB

Stephen R. J. Salton was born in Cambridge, England and grew up in New Jersey. During high school, he spent a summer in the Joel Oppenheim and Martin Nachbar labs at New York University. Salton entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he found biochemistry courses exciting, then entered New York University's MD/PhD program. There, he did research in pharmacology under Michael Shelanski and Lloyd Greene, making antibodies for work on PC12 cell surface glycoprotein response to nerve growth factor v (NGF) treatments. He grew interested in the evolution of molecular biology techniques into a widely accessible tool that can decrease the tedium of large-scale DNA analysis. He discusses the role of small labs, publishing, and funding, as well as Mount Sinai Medical School, where he now works.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0559
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
4-6 November 1996

Abstract of Interview

Stephen R. J. Salton was born in Cambridge, England, and moved to Australia when he was about seven. When he was about ten, his family moved to Cranford, New Jersey, where his father became chairman of the microbiology department at New York University. Salton attended public schools, and he remembers a good chemistry teacher. He had an early interest in biology, partly because he liked it and partly because his perception of science was influenced by his father's career. Although he felt that there were deficiencies in his pre-college science curriculum, he did have a chance to perform research one summer in the Joel Oppenheim and Martin Nachbar labs at New York University.
Salton entered the University of Pennsylvania to major in biology; there he found stimulating introductory biology and biochemistry courses. He had the opportunity to undertake undergraduate lab work at the Wistar Institute with James England and Michael Halpern who taught him the importance of learning to solve problems at the bench. He decided to enter New York University's MD/PhD program, where he did his PhD research in pharmacology under Michael Shelanski and Lloyd Greene, making antibodies for work on PC12 cell surface glycoprotein response to nerve growth factor v (NGF) treatments. He became enmeshed in the debate over basic science and clinically relevant research and the funding problems raised by that debate.
Though somewhat dissatisfied with medical school coursework, some of that dissatisfaction was mitigated when in his second year he met his future wife, Johanna Baeuerle. Also to his benefit during his schooling, Salton had a good working relationship with Shelanski and Greene who taught him the usefulness of collaborations between labs for meeting funding deadlines and the politics involved in collaborations. He then did a residency and postdoc in the James Roberts lab; balancing professional life and life with his family (Baeuerle and their two children) was sometimes a challenge. Salton had entered the Roberts lab in order to learn molecular biology techniques; he was later able to apply molecular techniques in an attempt to determine the differences between neutrophic growth factors and non-neutrophic growth factors. He found exciting the rapid evolution of molecular biology techniques into a widely accessible tool that can decrease the potential tedium involved in large-scale DNA analysis.
The interview concludes with Salton's discussion of some ideas about how to keep a small lab competitive; the political advantages of publishing in Cell, Nature, or Science; and the insular editorial tendency at the top science journals. He discusses funding; professional opportunities for science PhD 's; and sharing lab facilities; he continues with Mount Sinai's process of recruiting faculty to the new Fishberg Research Center for Neurobiology as illustrative of his own transition from postdoc to assistant professor. He ends with his beliefs about the effect of changes in the health care industry on medical school funding, his opinion of the proposed merging of Mount Sinai Medical School and the New York University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and regret over a lost opportunity to pursue clinically based research under Ira Goldstein.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1976 University of Pennsylvania BA Biochemistry
1983 New York University MD/PhD Pharmacology

Professional Experience

Mount Sinai School of Medicine

1986 to 1988
Postdoctoral Fellow
1989 to 1999
Assistant Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1976

Magna cum laude, University of Pennsylvania

1977 to 1983

Medical Scientist Training Program Award

1989 to 1991

Pfizer Scholar Award

1991 to 1994

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences Award

1994 to 1999

Irma T. Hirschl Career Scientist Award

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Childhood in England and Australia. Move to the United States. Family background. High school science courses. Participation in soccer, cricket, and tennis. Early interests in biology. Growing up in New Jersey. Father's career as a microbiologist and its effect on Salton's childhood perception of science. High school friends. The deficiencies of the pre-college science curriculum.

College Years, Medical School, and Residency
24

Stimulating introductory biology and biochemistry courses at the University of Pennsylvania. Science professors at Penn. Early laboratory experiences. Undergraduate lab work at the Wistar Institute with James M. England and Michael S. Halpern. The importance of learning problem solving at the bench. Decides to enter New York University's MD/PhD program in order to preparefor a career in research. High school summer research experience in the Joel D. Oppenheim and Martin S. Nachbar labs at New York University. Funding in the sciences. Conflict between basic science and clinically relevant research. Pursues a PhD in pharmacology under Michael L. Shelanski and Lloyd A. Greene. Making antibodies for work on PC12 cell surface glycoprotein response to nerve growth factor (NGF) treatments. Meets future wife, Johanna Baeuerle. A year in the James L. Roberts lab during residency.

Postdoctoral and Faculty Years
49

Balancing family and professional life. Enters the Roberts lab in order to learn molecular biology techniques. Pfizer Scholars Award. Applies molecular techniques in attempt to determine the differences between neutrophic growth factors and non-neutrophic growth factors. The interface between clinical practice and basic research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine of the City University of New York. Work on NGF-inducible large external glycoprotein as a starting point for clinical researchers. Identifying signaling pathways and molecules regulated by growth factors.

Final Thoughts
67

The peer review system for grants. The cost-effectiveness of shared lab facilities. Pressure to secure funding. Looking for signal transduction pathways unique to the NGF receptor. Studying neuronal differentiation. The new Fishberg Research Center for Neurobiology. The transition from postdoc to assistantprofessor at Mount Sinai. The effect of changes in the health care industry on medical school funding.

Index
92

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan