Nicoletta Sacchi on Meeting Jim Watson
  Nicoletta Sacchi     Biography    
Recorded: 08 Jun 2004

Actually I met Dr. Watson in 1987 and that was when this Genome Project, the Human Genome Project, was debated. And then there was here Dr. Renato Dulbecco, Dr. Schlessinger, Ute Franke, a number of scientists, they were just talking for the first time I think in a more official way about this Genome Project. And I happened to be in the cafeteria here and over my lunch and Dr. Watson sat next to me. So we started to chat and then somebody took a picture of the two of us that I gave to you guys, where you can see how young I was and how enthusiastic I was. And it was very nice to see how in a very relaxed way, he entertained conversation with me. I learned that one of my students who was here a couple of years ago had breakfast with him in the morning. When he realized that he was having breakfast with Dr. Watson he called me the same day to say "Do you know what happened to me?" Then I related to his feelings because really…you know that he is the person that basically in a way shaped also our career without even knowing that he was doing so, so many years ago.

I remember very well at this meeting. The meeting was held in the Grace Auditorium. It really was again, I’m repeating myself. It was like really to witness a piece of history. Because there in a very informal way, like often is done here at Cold Spring Harbor, I realized that something big was going to happen. And this was the Genome Project. Because I remember Dr. Dulbecco, Dr. Ute Franke, Sydney Brenner and a number of people, Dr. David Schlessinger. They were having the very first tools to tackle the human genome at that time. Also in my case because I was interested in cancer I recall Dr. Renato Dulbecco talking about that only by learning more about the genome we would be learning more about cancer. And two years later I was able to invite several of the people that were here, [to] Italy, in the northern part of Italy. At the time we were all tackling chromosome 21 and we were studying the leukemia that had the abnormality on chromosome 21. I strongly believed in what they were saying. Because I actually was through the early genome project technology that I was able to clone a leukemia abnormality on chromosome 21. So I remember that all of these people that eventually came, some of them came to Italy. So I recall very well that moment because I was able here, even if I was fairly young, to talk to them and eventually to organize just a topic meeting in the Italian Riviera on chromosome 21 where people started to exchange tools of chromosome 21 that enabled the discovery of several genes that are disease-related genes, like Alzheimer’s disease, leukemia disease genes, Downs Syndrome. And so it was a very important meeting for me of networking without having the difficulty of networking, or using the pen to network with the very important scientists. We were just meeting them casually and was very easy to approach them. Or they sometimes were approaching us asking where are you coming from, what are you doing? That’s what I think Cold Spring Harbor is very useful.

Nicoletta Sacchi, Ph.D., is a Professor and Distinguished Member of the Department of Cancer Biology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York where she has been focusing on gene regulation in cancer cells since 2003. Native to Milan, Italy, she received her Ph.D. from the University of Milan in 1972, followed by postdoctoral work at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, at the Roche Institute of Immunology in Basel under Nobelist Georges Köhler.

In 1982 she came to the United States to continue her postdoctoral training at the National Cancer Institute. She returned to Italy in 1991 to become an Associate Professor at the University of Milan, until 1997 when she decided to make the US her home. That year she became a Visiting Scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

In 2002 Dr. Sacchi, was named the most cited women scientist and the 18th most cited scientist worldwide That year she received recognition for having the most quoted paper over the 20 year period from 1983 to 2002, "Single-step method of RNA isolation by acid guanidinium thiocyanate phenol chloroform extraction" Analytical Biochemistry 162(1):156-9,1987, which she co-wrote with Piotr Chomczynski.. This article has been cited over 56,000 times as of January, 2008.

Dr. Sacchi has been awarded the EMBO Award (1974 and 1981), the Soroptimist International Award (1976), AIRC Award (1984), the Gianina Gaslini Medal (1989), and the BIOTEC Award (1989.)