Marc Tessier-Lavigne on Social Activism
  Marc Tessier-Lavigne     Biography    
Recorded: 11 Sep 2008

That’s right. I took a year off. I was fortunate because Oxford allows you to do this if you already have an undergraduate degree, which I did. You can do a second one in two years. So after that I’d been involved as a student with a student organization. I was coaxed, cajoled into running the organization for a year so I took a year off from studies and worked as the national coordinator of the Canadian Student Pugwash Organization. So I moved back to Canada for a year to do that. It’s an organization that was based in Canadian universities. It was an offshoot of the International Pugwash Movement which of course you are familiar with and focused on the role of science and society. Pugwash of course when it was founded by Einstein and Russell back in the 1950s was focused on the threat of nuclear weapons. But through the 60s and 70s and 80s it broadened its perspective to focus on global problems that could be addressed by science and by scientists and some student movements became offshoots of that. It was a non-partisan organization that was focused on investigating the role and place of science in society with a big focus on issues related to defense, but also bioethics. At the time recombinant DNA was very much in the news. Test tube babies. Things like that. So I was involved as a student and then I went back to Canada for a year to work on organizing the organization and running it.

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.

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