Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has revolutionized the way that we think about microbiology. She elucidated the chemical language that bacteria use to communicate through a process called quorum sensing that allows bacteria to count their numbers, determine when they’ve reached a critical mass, and then change their behavior in unison to result in virulence or even bioluminescence. Called everything from a [MacArthur] genius to the bacteria whisperer, Bassler also excels at the art of scientific communication, has dabbled in theater, and many mornings a week leads an aerobics class in Princeton.
After a 15-year focus on the biology of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) family, the modern-day microbe hunter Don Ganem turned his attention to KSHV, the herpes virus that is the cause of the AIDS-related neoplasm Kaposi sarcoma (KS). His lab at UCSF was the first to cultivate and develop tests for KSHV. In 2010, after nearly 30 years in academia, Ganem left for industry and is currently the Vice President and Global Head for Infectious Disease for the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. View the full interview for many more stories about flunking algebra to hold hands with a girl, what Martians with golf clubs can teach you about drawing conclusions, and taking a turn as Dr. Dolittle.
Sir Marc Feldmann’s research over the last 30 years has focused on the understanding of autoimmune disease, specifically the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Sir Marc, now at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology at Oxford University, championed the importance of antigen presentation and cytokines in autoimmunity, a concept that led to TNF-α blockade. This idea was considered heretical in the 1980s until he and Sir Ravinder Maini led clinical trials showing that blocking TNF-α effectively treated rheumatoid arthritis refractory to previous therapy. The TNF-α antibodies Remicade, Humira, and Enbrel are now the cornerstone of a $25 billion industry. For stories about getting Pharma to speed delivery to patients and the power of persistence, watch the full interview.
The simple fact that you can understand the words on this page, and that you might remember any of this interview tomorrow, is thanks to the simultaneous and precise coordination of communication between the billions of neurons in your brain and peripheral nervous system. Herein, the JCI speaks with Thomas Südhof of Stanford University, who has been at the center of unlocking the secrets of neurotransmission. His work over the last 30 years has elucidated much of what we know about the molecular mechanisms of neurotransmission in synaptic signaling. For this body of work, Südhof has recently shared in the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the 2013 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.
Much of our current understanding of calcium metabolism rests in large part on a series of discoveries made by John T. Potts Jr. of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Potts is an internationally recognized authority on calcium metabolism and parathyroid hormone (PTH) in particular. In addition to his research, he carried an enormous leadership role, serving as both Chairman of Medicine and Physician in Chief of the MGH between 1981 and 1996. Watch the full interview for stories about working with Berson and Yalow, his approach to leading the MGH, and what has changed over his 56 years there.