Markus Stoffel

Born: March 13, 1962 | Cologne, DE
Photograph of Markus Stoffel

Markus Stoffel

Markus Stoffel was born in Cologne, Germany. He was interested in science from an early age, and spent an influential high school year abroad in Cambridge, England, where he was struck by the specialization of the educational system. Interested in medicine, Stoffel began studying at Rheinische Friedrich-Willhelms-Universität, but was soon drawn back to Cambridge University. Next, Stoffel took an internship at University of Hamburg and another at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in New York. Influenced by a budding interest in the genetics of diabetes, Stoffel worked under Graeme I. Bell at the University of Chicago, before accepting a position at Rockefeller University, working on a chromosome 20 project and looking at the genes and transcription factors involved in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0528
No. of pages: 77
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
14-16 October 2002
Rockefeller University, New York, New York

Abstract of Interview

Markus Stoffel was born and raised in Cologne, Germany, the second youngest of four siblings. His father was a professor and the chairman of the Department of Biochemistry of the Universitat zu Köln in Cologne; his mother received a degree in sociology while in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His family was very close and enjoyed reading, music, theater, and other facets of an intellectual and cultural life, often hosting scientists and other academics at their home. Stoffel received the standard Gymnasium education (about which he speaks at length), was interested in science from an early age, and had the opportunity to spend a high school year abroad in Cambridge, England—where he was struck by the specialization of the educational system and the teaching—which proved quite formative.

After deciding on a career in science/medicine, Stoffel began his studies at Rheinische Friedrich-Willhelms-Universitat in Bonn, Germany, but he was drawn back to England, specifically Cambridge University, for three years (two years of coursework and a year of laboratory research under Anthony Minson), before returning to Bonn, Germany, for his clinical training. He encountered many influential and high-profile scientists while at Cambridge, which is also where he learned genetic research while working on cytomegalovirus at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute under Anthony Minson and Geoffrey L. Smith. After receiving his degree in Bonn, Stoffel took an internship position at the University of Hamburg in Germany before taking another at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in New York. After his two internships, a budding interest in the growing research regarding the genetics of diabetes, and a recommendation from a family friend, Purnell W. Choppin, Stoffel applied to the University of Chicago, where he received a position and worked under Graeme I. Bell on candidate genes involved in diabetes. Upon finishing his postdoctoral research, he accepted a position at the Rockefeller University, continuing work on the chromosome 20 project he had begun while in Bell's lab and also looking at the genes and transcription factors involved in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes.

At the end of the interview, Stoffel details his current research as well as what paths his research may take in the future, including large-scale genetic studies on diabetes in the island population of Kosrae and research on development and differentiation in the pancreatic beta cell. He also discusses broader issues of science, including: collaboration and competition in his research area; the grant-writing process; and funding systems in both the United States and Europe. Stoffel talks in depth about his position at the Rockefeller University, his teaching responsibilities, and his patents; he additionally discusses how this work life is balanced with his family life. After making more comparisons between scientific ethical issues in the United States and Europe, he expands on that idea and talks about the ethical issues of gene therapy and stem cell research. He concludes the interview by relating his professional and personal goals and noting the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on his work. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1987 Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge BA
1987 Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge MA
1991 Friedrich-Wilhelms University MD/PhD

Professional Experience

Heinrich Pette Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology

1989 to 1991
Molecular Biology

Hamburg University Medical Center

1989 to 1991
Internal Medicine/Endocrinology

The Rockefeller University

1995 to 2004
Assistant Professor, Head of Laboratory

University of Chicago Medical Center

1991 to 1993
Postdoctoral Fellow
1993 to 1994
Research Associate/Assistant Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1987

Dr. Graham P. McCullagh Memorial Prize, Cambridge, England

1989

Postdoctoral Fellowship Award from the Deutsche Margarineumion

1991

Postdoctoral Fellowship Award from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

1996

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Parents. Siblings. Childhood experiences. Parental expectations. German educational system. Growing up in Cologne, Germany. Interest in music. Hobbies.

High School, College, and Medical School
10

Early interest in science. His father's research. Religion. High school year in Cambridge, England. More on the German educational system. Decision to pursue a career in medicine or science. Begins medical studies at Rheinische Friedrich- Wilhelms Universität, Bonn, Germany. Transfers to Cambridge University, England. The educational systems of Germany, Britain, and the United States. Mandatory civil service. Influential teachers at Cambridge University. Introduction to genetic research while working on cytomegalovirus at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute under Anthony Minson and Geoffrey L. Smith.

Clinical Work and Postdoctoral Years
23

Clinical work at Rheinishe Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn, Germany. Internship at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Develops an interest in diabetes during his work at Hamburg. Internship at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in New York City. Postdoctoral research on the genetics of diabetes at the University of Chicago under Graeme I. Bell. Work on candidategenes involved in diabetes.

Faculty Years
35

Accepts a position at Rockefeller University. Current research on chromosome 20, the genes, and the transcription factors involved in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes. Future large-scale genetic studies on diabetes in the island population of Kosrae. Future research on transcription factors in type 2 diabetes and ondevelopment and differentiation in the pancreatic beta cell. Interest in potassium channels and neurobiology. Collaborations and Competition. Research funding systems in the United States and in Europe.

Final Thoughts
49

Age discrimination in research funding. Grant-writing process. Training scientists in clinical and basic sciences. Faculty position at Rockefeller University. Patents. Wife and children. His wife's career. Balancing family and career. Gender issues in science. The prominence of foreign students as science graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Science in the United States and Europe. Ethical issues of gene therapy and stem cell research. Role of thescientist in public policy. The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
74

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan