Recorded: 15 Jun 2002
Yes, so I come year after year. And I got more and more involved in the laboratory. In the mid-1980s I was organizing meetings. It’s important to say that my parents lived down the road, just a mile and half from the lab and that I lived in the area through high school—from age ten through high school. And so I always liked to come here. It does feel like coming home—even today. And, you know, as the years went on I met people in the laboratory and even had occasions where I was collaborating with people here doing experiments with people here. So, talking science with people.
By 1990—so in 1990, my laboratory discovered D-type cyclins and we were struggling with the problem and I realized I needed to do an experiment that probably involved expressing the mammalian genes in yeast and I didn’t know any yeast geneticists. But I had read David Beach’s work, and I knew he was at Cold Spring Harbor. By then I was already in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and when I got on a bus one night at a Hughes meeting, David, who I’ve never met was sitting next to me—I suggested that I had a gene that maybe we could work on together. It turned out that not only had he isolated the same gene, although we didn’t know that. And it was just fortuitous. We exchanged sequences and the gene was identical. So that was a G1 cyclin in mammalian cells that had not been identified. And David and I ended up publishing that work back to back in Cell in 1991.
And it was a good experience because, you know we had exchanged data, we were working in very different systems; we realized, each of us, that it was more exciting than we had thought. I mean, he had worked on it in yeast; I had worked on it mammalian cells—when you put the story together it was even better, it was twice as good, right?
So that brought me into contact with David and then we started doing more and more things. Eventually in 1992 he set up a company, Mitotix, and asked me to join his scientific board. So I did that with him for a while. And I met Giulio Draetta who was in David’s lab who took over; Greg Hannon who went to work with David at the time. I had met Scott Lowe beforehand. So, you know, there were a number of people here who were interested in cancer biology and cell cycle dynamics who I met. And, of course, Bruce [Stillman] was here working on DNA replication.
And as the years went on, somehow or other, it occurred to Bruce one day to ask me to join the Board. It came as a complete surprise. I don’t know what he was thinking about. But, you know, there are some scientists on the Board of Trustees. And I guess that he figured that I had been involved in the lab for so long and I knew quite a number of people and that it would be something that I might agree to do. So, of course, I did.
I don’t know how long I’ve been a Board member, four years maybe—something like that.
…most of the Board, you know, are business people and they’re interested in stewardship and raising money and so on and so forth. We rarely say anything. I mean I was there this morning. I didn’t open up my mouth through the whole meeting—it’s a four-hour meeting and I didn’t say a word.
Mark Ptashne and Ed Harlow were here today. The rest of the scientists, you know its catch as catch can. Sometimes they come; sometimes they don’t.
Every once in a while there is a scientific issue that comes up and they want an opinion and so then it’s important to have us there. We can support a laboratory program or try to explain why we think an important—an initiative that the lab is undertaking merits support. Particularly if it’s something expensive, right? And there are scientific presentations at each Board meeting that I attend. Last time it was [Michael] Wigler; this time it was [Scott] Lowe. So they do have areas where we can help, I think. And I’m also on their Appointments—I don’t know what they call the committee, you know, it’s an Appointment and Promotions type committee. They—if Bruce wants to put somebody up for a promotion, he’ll usually send a dossier to members of the Board. So it’s good if we know the people, we make some comments—express some concerns. They occasionally listen to us, rarely, every once in a while.
Charles Sherr earned his joint M.D./Ph.D. degree from New York University in 1973. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator based at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. His work focuses on retroviral oncogenes, growth factors and their receptors, and cell cycle control. In 1991, Sherr's laboratory discovered the mammalian D-type G1 cyclins and went on to identify the cyclin-dependent kinases with which they associate, as well as a series of polypeptide inhibitors that negatively regulate their activities.
Sherr is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, has won numerous awards and is the author of more than 235 scientific articles. He joined the National Cancer Institute in 1973, becoming a member of the NIH staff in 1975 and head of the viral pathology section, Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, in 1977. In 1983, he relocated to St. Jude. Sherr is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.