Charles N. Serhan
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Charles N. Serhan grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the older of two children. His father, who retired early from shipping work, is of Lebanese descent, his mother Italian. When he was in junior high school, Serhan learned to play the vibraphone and played professionally for a year before college. Although he loved music and fantasized a musical career, he did not like the life of a musician. He had always liked and done well in science, so he decided to enter university, but he continued to play the vibraphone as well. He chose to specialize in biomedical science.
Serhan did his undergraduate work at State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he studied biochemistry and immunohistochemistry, doing research on cell separation. Michael Heidelberger persuaded Serhan to go to graduate school at New York University and to work in the lab of Gerald Weissmann. Serhan spent a summer working with Weissmann at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. Weissmann's interest in the role of neutrophils in inflammation led to Serhan's doctoral research on neutrophil remodeling.
After finishing his PhD Serhan took a visiting scientist position at the Karolinska Institute. There he met his future wife, Birgitta Schmidt, who now has a career as a dermatopathologist also at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Serhan was influenced by mentors Helen M. Korchak, Manfred Karnovsky, and Aaron J. Marcus and by reading The Art of Scientific Investigation and Men Like Gods. Michael Heidelberger gave him advice on how to be a good scientist and on the need to conduct both safe and risky experiments. He collaborated with James L. Madarain studying white cells' interaction with epithelial cells: he was trying to accelerate the healing of wounds. A family illness gave Serhan a more personal appreciation for the value of research and increased his desire to produce something with a clinical application. Serhan's research on the interaction of monosodium urate crystals and human neutrophils in platelets led to the discovery of tetraene compounds; he also continued his research on the lipoxinsand their role in regulating inflammation and on intracellular communication channels. He studied lipoxins in trout and describes the accidental discovery of trout lipoxin, discussing the pharmacological potential of the research and the relationship between science and technology.
The interview ends with a discussion of how Serhan advises young scientists to pursue their own interests, citing serendipitous findings that have had implications for the study of inflammation; how he believes that the funding of American science inhibits creativity; and that pharmacology is a basic but neglected discipline. Serhan talks more about his interest in the structural elucidation of cellular messengers; the biological action of lipoxins; the role of monocytes in inflammation; and his examinations of aspirin-sensitive asthmatics with Bruce Levy. Serhan says that today's scientists lead pressured lives, and it is a mistake to evaluate scientists by the number of grants they receive or by the size of their laboratories. He feels the need to tackle long-term research projects, projects that require long-term funding.
Serhan was invited to see Barbara McClintock accept her Nobel Prize, and he talks about Nobel Prize winners as role models. He mentions his lab members Jane Maddox, Joan Claria, and Boshkar Jacobodi; he encourages minority students to become scientists. Serhan concludes his interview with a discussion of the difficulty of balancing family life and work life, especially in a two-career family.
|1978||State University of New York at Stony Brook||BS||Biochemistry|
|1982||Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at New York University School of Medicine||PhD||Experimental Pathology|
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Harvard Medical School
Marine Biological Laboratory Award for Most Outstanding Paper
|1982 to 1984||
Postdoctoral fellowship, National Institutes of Health
|1984 to 1985||
Swedish Medical Research Council Visiting Scientist Fellowship
|1984 to 1987||
Postdoctoral fellowship, Arthritis Foundation
|1987 to 1988||
Grant-in-aid award, Massachusetts affiliate, American Heart Association
|1987 to 1990||
J. V. Staterfield Arthritis Investigator, Arthritis Foundation
|1987 to 1989||
Medical Foundation Research Fellow, Medical Foundation, Inc.
|1988 to 1991||
Grant, Allergy and Infectious Diseases Branch, National Institutes of Health
|1988 to 1992||
Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences
|1990 to 1995||
Established investigatorship, American Heart Association National Center
|1991 to 1994||
Clifford M. Clarke Science Award, Arthritis Foundation
|1992 to 1993||
Proctor Fund grant, Harvard Medical School
Table of Contents
Lebanese ancestry. Childhood in Brooklyn. Father serves in the Korean War. Learns to play the vibraphone and plays professionally for a year before college. Tours with a band. Decides to enter the university but continues to play music on the side. Reasons for specializing in biomedical science. Childhood passion for science. Strong sense of family.
Parallels between music and science. Competition. War. Vietnam War and the draft. Reading popular science. Musical interests. Works in the Gerald Weissmann lab at New York University (NYU). Michael Heidelberger. Interaction between science and technology. Religious background.
Meets future wife, Birgitta Schmidt, at the Karolinska Institute. Her career as a Dermatopathologist. Stopped playing music professionally. Enters State University of New York at Stony Brook. Part-time jobs. Studies biochemistry and immunohistochemistry. Pursues research on cell separation. Biochemistry program at Stony Brook. Immunologists in the New York region. International College at Stony Brook. Catholicism and science. Graduate school at NYU. Excited by the writings of Weissmann. Spends the summer working with Weissmann at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. Mandate of the National Institutes of Health. Education in the United States. Doctoral research on neutrophil remodeling.
Weissmann's interest in the role of neutrophils in inflammation. Adopts the Uppsala Universitet model for his thesis. Work of Rolando del Maestro on venule microscopy. Learning to write scientific papers. Weissmann's research on neutrophil activation and phagocytosis. Weissmann's concept of "frustrated phagocytosis" and its relationship to inflammation of the joints. Research on the oxidation of lipids. Weissmann's style and popular writings. Creativity and conformity in scientific research. Lab exchanges with Pierre Borgeat of Université Laval, Québec. Jane F. Maddox's research on lipoxins. Helen M. Korchak, Manfred Karnovsky, and Aaron J. Marcus.
Influenced by reading The Art of Scientific Investigation and Men Like Gods. Michael Heidelberger's advice on how to be a good scientist. Need to conduct both safe and risky experiments. Interest in scientific biography. How tight funding encourages safe science and discourages risks. Public skepticism about basic science research. Danger of overselling science. Increasing complexity of biological sciences and need for theoretical synthesis. Scope of the term "biochemistry. " Collaborates with James L. Madara in studying white cells' interaction with epithelial cells. Trying to accelerate the healing of wounds. Desire to produce something with a clinical application. Weissmann's collaborative research with Bengt Samuelsson on leukotrienes. How Karolinska Institute researchers applied mass spectroscopy techniques to elucidate thestructure of prostaglandins. Sune Bergstrom and Bengt Samuelsson. Research on substances involved in platelet clotting. Research on the interaction of monosodium urate crystals and human neutrophils in platelets. Discovers tetraene compounds. Samuelsson lab. Funding and creativity.
Research on the lipoxins and their role in regulating inflammation. Intracellular communication channels. Studying lipoxins in trout. Pharmacological potential of the research. Relationship between science and technology. Accidental discovery of trout lipoxins. Advice to young scientists. Serendipitous findings that have had implications for the study of inflammation. Pharmacology as a basic but neglected discipline. Interest in the structural elucidation of cellular messengers. Role of monocytes in inflammation. Examining aspirin-sensitive asthmatics with Bruce D. Levy. Long-term research projects. Juggling family life and career.
Serves as a mentor to entering graduate students. Invited to see Barbara McClintock accept her Nobel Prize. Nobel laureates as role models. Balancing family and career. Need for long-term funding in science. Lab members Jane F. Maddox, Joan Claria, and Boshkar Jacobodi.