Marc Tessier-Lavigne on Discovering the Purification of Netrins
  Marc Tessier-Lavigne     Biography    
Recorded: 11 Sep 2008

So you are referring to the fact that we didn’t publish anything for three years until we published the purification of netrins. And the work had really started in gearing up for the purification when I was still a postdoc with Tom. But I was very fortunate at UCSF to be able to recruit some wonderful colleagues, postdoctoral fellows and students, in particular, Tito Serafini who joined me early on from Jim Rothman’s lab. He brought a lot of expertise in bucket biochemistry and had to be educated in dealing no longer with buckets that are very, very small pieces of tissue. But he was a wonderful collaborator. Tim Kennedy joined me from Eric Kandel’s lab and actually brought a lot of expertise in protein sequencing and as well as some wonderful students and we set out to try to purify the factor made by floorplate cells. We went in again in a hardnosed way. We sort of worked through quantitative arguments to try and convince ourselves that we would be able to purify the factor from embryonic tissue we made assumptions about what kind of specific activity it would have to have or what it might have by comparison with other factors. And based on the activity that we saw in crude brain extracts we imagined that we needed perhaps about a thousand fold enrichment and calculated that we would need a few thousand brains to purify the factors. So it was a long slough, but we had a sense that we could do it. It was a great atmosphere. I think when you’re just starting out at some level I think it’s great to take a risk like that and just go all in. So we went all in and came out the other end and were able to purify the netrins. That was a very exciting time I think for us in the lab with its ups and downs and scary moments as well.

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.