Recorded: 11 Sep 2008
That’s interesting, but I never thought of the analogy, but now that you mentioned it there does seem to be a parallel with rock climbing. There’s a challenge, and of course, you always push yourself to do something a little bit harder the next time. It’s slightly scary. Then when you get to the top, it’s exhilarating, and then you start all over again.
Now that you mention it, as a scientist I’ve always been drawn to big problems, and I guess my scientific style has been to focus on the big problems and take whatever time it takes to really advance them. In my laboratory we don’t publish a lot of little papers which I find a distraction. Sort of go for the big thing and persist at it until you get it or you don’t get it. We’ve been fortunate that in some cases we’ve been able to crack the problem we were after. In some cases we haven’t. You also have to know when to let go and move on. But maybe there’s an analogy there with rock climbing. You get going and you basically have to go to the top. You know, there’s no point in doing it by halves. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s stretching to try to draw too close of an analogy, but it’s an interesting idea.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a pioneer in developmental neurobiology, is currently president of The Rockefeller University in New York, where he heads the Laboratory of Brain Development and Repair, and oversees 70 independent laboratories that operate within the university. He is the first industry executive to serve as president of Rockefeller. He joined Genentech, Inc. in 2003 as Senior Vice President, Research Drug Discovery, and was promoted to Executive Vice President, Research Drug Discovery in June, 2008. In that capacity, he was responsible for research management of all therapeutic areas of research, including a team of 1,400 researchers and his own research lab. His research at Genentech on the development of the brain uncovered details of how Alzheimer's disease is triggered.
Born in Canada in 1959, he was also raised in Belgium and the UK, and has lived in the US since 1990. Marc completed an undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics from McGill University (B.Sc., 1980), and a second undergraduate degree in philosophy and physiology from Oxford University (Rhodes Scholar, B.A., 1982). Prior to earning his Ph.D. at University College London (1986) in neurophysiology, Marc became the national coordinator of the Canadian Student Pugwash Organization, which promotes awareness and action relating to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and other ethical implications of science and technology policy. During his postdoctoral work at UCL and Columbia University, Marc’s research focus became developmental neurobiology.
From 1991 to 2001 he was on the faculty at the University of California, San Francisco.
From 1994 to 2003 he was also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His famous discovery of the netrins (a class of proteins involved in axon guidance) occurred in 1994 while he was at the University of California, San Francisco. In 2000 he co-founded the biopharmaceutical company Renovis. From 2001-2003 he was the Susan B. Ford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and professor of Biological Sciences and a professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University.
Among the many awards Marc has received for his work in neuroscience are the McKnight Investigator Award (1994), the Ameritec Prize (1995), the Foundation IPSEN Prize for Neuronal Plasticity (shared, 1996), the Viktor Hamburger Award, International Society for Developmental Neuroscience (1997), the Wakeman Award for spinal cord injury research (shared, 1998), the Robert Dow Neuroscience Award (2003), and the Reeve-Irvine Research Medal (shared, 2006). Tessier-Lavigne has been elected a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and a fellow of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences in the United Kingdom.