Recorded: 04 Jun 2001
I did my Ph.D. with Av [Avrion] Mitchison in immunology, and then I moved to go and work with Lionel Crawford at the ICRF [Imperial Cancer Research Fund]. The story is that he hired me because he didn’t like to, I alternate(??) proteins, he thought it was a bit dangerous, but he knew I was doing this for my Ph.D. I changed fields as a result of that. I stopped being an immunologist and started being a tumor virologist. I had intended to go back into immunology. I had a postdoctoral place, actually, with Bill Paul of the NIH [National Institutes of Health], and still feel bad about letting him down, which I did. But Joe Sambrook came through with Mike Botchan through to ICRF. I think they were doing cloning experiments with the ICRF because there were still some restrictions about cloning in the United States at that time. Joe talked to me and mostly through Mike Fried who he knew well. Joe suggested that I come to Cold Spring Harbor instead. It was a real hard sell. He just said, you’d be wasting your time going back into NIH; you should come here. We have these Robertson Research Fellowships, you should definitely come. We’d love to have your wife come, as well, we really want both of you to come. She was a fish biologist at the time. She also had a postdoc to go to. So it really changed our lives completely, but it was, there was a strong connection between the ICRF and Cold Spring Harbor in those days. There still is actually, a lot of interaction between those two places.
Our work had just started to get really exciting. Lionel was only there for a few months and then he went on sabbatical leave to the states, and while he was away we really got this P53 project off the ground. It was a hugely exciting time. It was a terribly confusing time for me. I hadn’t finished writing my Ph.D. I ended up being, kind of, in charge of Lionel’s lab while he was away, with lots of other people on the floor, sort of competing for the space. I was trying to write my Ph.D., I was trying to do this new work and I was getting pressure from all sides, so it was quite an exciting time and, I got a job then. I’d been there only nine months and my professor phoned me up, Mitchison phoned me up and said, you must apply for a position at Imperial College for a lectureship. I did and I got this job, so then I really had two jobs, and I had this postdoc position here to go to. That [Dr. Lane, are you referring to the Imperial College London Lectureship?] was a tenured position, so I had tenure very young [twenty-five] as a scientist, which is very unusual, but, it was incredible. It would never happen now. But looking back on it, in a sense for me personally, it was very helpful because it did give me a certain independence and robustness. I think it was quite a good—these days, most of the post docs are thirty, and I was twenty-seven when I came back from Cold Spring Harbor and started my own lab, so I’d already done two post docs.
It was fantastic. It was the best thing that happened to me. I just worked in Britain, and had a particular view both cultural and scientific and I came here [Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory] and it was so exciting and wild and different. It was just amazing, the effect it had on my career. I really made a lot of friends. I’ve always felt a much easier connection with the states as a result of having worked here. I made my first monoclonal antibodies here, so it was very exciting technically to do that and I did it, literally with my own hands. It was a fantastic feeling of achievement.
David Lane, immunologist, is the Director of the Cancer Research UK Transformation Research Group at the University of Dundee, Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology at the Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in Dundee, Scotland. Lane founded the Department of Surgery and Oncology in the University’s Medical School with Alfred Cucheiri, one of the pioneers in minimal access ("keyhole") surgery. Currently on leave from the University of Dundee, he the Executive Director of the IMCB in Singapore. Lane is also the founder and Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of Cyclacel, a Dundee based biotechnology company now listed on the NASDAQ. Shortly after receiving his Ph.D., he was recruited by Joe Sambrook to work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with the Tumor Virus Group in the 70’s, where he also completed one of his books on antibodies. In 2000, Lane was knighted by Queen Elizabeth of England for his many contributions to science. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the University College London.