Chapter 02: A Death Inspires a Career Change and a Commitment to Leukemia Research

Title

Chapter 02: A Death Inspires a Career Change and a Commitment to Leukemia Research

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Description

Dr. Arlinghaus explains his reasons for focusing on leukemia research and the process of coming to MD Anderson. He begins the story in 1967, when he was working at the Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory (Greenport, NY, 1965 - 1969). This is when his first wife died of chronic myeloid leukemia. They had three children. Dr. Arlinghaus decided to stop working on the virus and processes that lead to foot and mouth disease and shift "all of my scientific brain power to work on that disease." He explains how he was invited to come and present a talk in the Department of Biology. He notes that, usually, a new faculty member brings something to the institution, but at the time, he was unproven in cancer (though he had significant publications in other areas), and Dr. Haas "took a chance" on him. Dr. Arlinghaus describes the expertise in proteins he brought to MD Anderson.

Identifier

ArlinghausR_01_20140321_C02

Publication Date

3-21-2014

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas; Evolution of Career; Professional Path; Personal Background; Joining MD Anderson; The Researcher; Professional Path; The Life and Dedication of Clinicians and Researchers; Human Stories; Discovery and Success

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Right. Well, I should tell you more. I mean --- in 1967, my first wife – I’m now remarried, years later – died of chronic myeloid leukemia in 1967. I had three children – she and I did. I decided-- I was working at a U.S. government laboratory in Long Island ---

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Was that Plum Island?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Yes, ma’am.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. So from — in 19 — from the Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory from 1965 to 1969.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

That’s where I worked, yes, ma’am. And I decided that I was going to stop working on viruses that cause foot and mouth because there’s this terrible disease that killed my first wife. I decided I was going to focus all my scientific brain on trying to do something about that disease, which at that time, it was only known that there was an abnormal chromosome. It was called the Philadelphia chromosome which my — my wife’s blood cells had that abnormal chromosome. Mine don’t, yours don’t, normal people don’t. Only those that have CML have this abnormal chromosome. And so, I wanted to know more about what that chromosome encoded for and how its expression in normal blood cells converted them to leukemia cells. So that was in 1969. And I didn’t have a clue, nor did anybody else of what the molecular details of CML was about. And many people contributed since then an understanding of what happens in a chronic myeloid leukemia cell, including me but, not just me. So what I’m trying to emphasize, that I gave up my lifetime job at Plum Island, because you know you’re — like to have GS ratings, and I have a GS 15 or 16 I don’t remember

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What does that mean – GS rating?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Government Service ---

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, okay.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

--- rating of 15 or 16, and I was paid a very good salary and a lifetime job and my wife just died and I start scouring the country for places to work on cancer. And one of the places I looked at was MD Anderson because a former colleague of mine – he and I trained together in Lexington, Kentucky. During the time I was a trainee, that would be from ’61 to ’65. His name was Joe [Joseph] Schaeffer. He worked at MD Anderson. And I called him, I said, look, "I’m interested in changing jobs, changing career. I want to find out if MD Anderson has some — some openings for people like me who was looking for a faculty to work on chronic myeloid leukemia. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to work on it because nobody else did. But I was going to start." And he got me set up with the Department Chair. He was in the Department of Biology. The Department Chair’s name was Felix Haas. They had a very strong scientific department at MD Anderson --- Department of Biology. And so, I was invited down to give a talk. I gave a talk on what I did on foot and mouth disease virus, and told them I wasn’t going to work on foot and mouth disease virus, I was going to work on leukemia somehow, somewhere. And, Dr. Haas — generally, when you hire somebody as an academic scientist, you hire them and they bring and they bring a whole set of technology with them ---

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

--- to work on a project that they’re working on --- wherever they were. I told them something different. I was not going to — I couldn’t work on foot and mouth disease virus at MD Anderson; that’s forbidden by federal law. You could only work on foot and mouth disease virus at Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Because of the quarantine issues.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Because of the quarantine issues.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Because the State of Texas is full of cattle. And, boy, I would go to jail in a hurry if I was working with foot and mouth disease virus anywhere in the U.S., let alone Texas. So, Dr. Haas had faith in me and he hired me, and he helped me, he gave me money from his sources to get me started.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What did he — how did you present yourself? You know, because obviously the institution had a reason to have faith in you. I mean, what did you tell them you were bringing to them?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, first of all, Joe Schaeffer knew me and Joe was an employee, an Assistant Professor at MD Anderson so he sort of spoke for me. That’s one. And plus, when he and I worked together at the Lexington, Kentucky Medical School, I did some – what words can I use – some very important work that led to important findings that were published in high-class --- of which I was the first author. So I was the lead scientist breaking new ground in this particular area called protein synthesis. And — so then, I was hired at Plum Island to continue those studies to understand how the proteins of foot and mouth disease virus were and how they were assembled to make viral particles. So I was doing at the time when I took that job, when my wife was already diagnosed and ill. She and I, with our three children moved to Long Island. She lived about 30 months, she died, and I decided I was going to work on leukemia and stop working on viruses and take my protein expertise, my ability to study how proteins function and what they affect and how they change other proteins. I tried to take that to work on leukemia. And I published some important papers in Lexington. He could open my CV, Dr. Haas, and see I published some high-level, high impact publications.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

And I was the leader. So I went to Plum Island and I published another high impact paper about foot and mouth disease. So it looked like I was doing important things at Plum Island after done — doing important things on a completely different subject at Lexington, Kentucky.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, was there something about — I mean, obviously, you were demonstrating a deep understanding of protein functionality at this time but maybe also, were you developing a kind of research approach or — I mean, I’m just trying to think of other kinds of things ---

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, I think I think he had faith in me that I was successful in a very high-level way in Lexington ---

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And that you could be adaptable.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

— and then I was very successful to some degree at Plum Island in publishing a high impact paper. So it looked like Arlinghaus was productive, published good science papers that were read by people in the field. So, when I said I wanted to work on leukemia at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, he had faith in me. And I — so my background, my track record, my productivity gave me support. Plus, Joe Schaeffer knew me quite well, can vouch for my leadership role at the University of Kentucky.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, it sounds like it was an excellent connection ---

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

It was.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

--- that was made there.

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Chapter 02: A Death Inspires a Career Change and a Commitment to Leukemia Research

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