Chapter 06: The New Department of Molecular Pathology

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Chapter 06: The New Department of Molecular Pathology

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Dr. Arlinghaus explains the package he received when he returned to MD Anderson in 1986 to set up the new Department of Molecular Pathology.He sums up his vision for the Department and lists the individuals he recruited to build out research.He explains that he looked for researchers with "vision and creativity" who could develop a unique set of independently funded research projects.Administratively, he did not want to create pyramids of grant support, a situation that would weaken the department.Dr. Arlinghaus notes that, two years ago, he was asked to step down as chair, and he felt relieved to do so.He next reviews his accomplishments as department chair.He lists the faculty members and notes that his department may be one of the best funded basic science departments in the institution.[The recorder is paused for about 5 minutes.]Dr. Arlinghaus makes brief comments on why a change in leadership was needed at the time.

Identifier

ArlinghausR_01_20140321_C06

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 University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution; The Administrator; Leadership; Building/Transforming the Institution; Multi-disciplinary Approaches; Growth and/or Change; Obstacles, Challenges; MD Anderson Culture; The Researcher; Discovery and Success

Disciplines

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

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure. Sure. I — I’m also wondering, too — I mean, the creation of this department, because — I’m — I’m always, you know, always interested in how — why new departments are formed at the time they are. I mean it seemed like, par — in part, it was to create a space for you where you had an administrative role …

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

That’s true.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

… an administrative ___.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

And I could have accepted and left it at that …

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

… but I told them what else I wanted to do. I wanted to …

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And, what was that?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, I wanted to study the molecular mechanisms of how cancer cells became cancer at the level of proteins. Because remember, the proteins are the — they do all the heavy lifting in cells. Hemoglobin binds oxygen in red cells, and without hemoglobin, you wouldn’t be alive. You and I wouldn’t be talking if we didn’t have hemoglobin. So, the protein, hemoglobin, is critical for red cell function. So, all cancer cells have critical changes that makes them into cancer cells. I wanted 100 people to find those critical proteins and identify them diagnostically and therapeutically.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Were there other departments of molecular pathology at cancer centers?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Oh, in other cancer centers, yeah. The one in Pittsburgh.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. There’s one in Pittsburgh.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

There was, at the time. Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Because I’m trying to get a sense of, you know, …

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

There weren’t many.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

… what was going on in the field, you know. Was the time ripe, you know, with all of this research coming out, for suddenly departments to start forming and ____ (over-talking)

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

I — I was criticized by pathologists, you’re not doing pathology. This is not pathology …

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Why did they say that?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

… here at MD Anderson.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Why did they say that?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, they didn’t have the vision. The vision is not looking at cells but examining what’s going on in the cells, from a cancer point of view. They didn’t have that vision. But, it didn’t bother me. I didn’t care what — that kind of criticism never bothered me.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Is that something that you found you had to keep explaining over the years?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

No.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

No.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

No. They finally got it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

How long did that take?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

I don’t know. I never keep track of that. I don’t know.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’m curious because it — I mean, it just seems like a real mind shift — mind set shift.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, first of all, when I came here, I didn’t have any grant support and I wrote — every grant I wrote to the National Institutes of Health, I got funded. So, I ended up with five — six grants from NIH. So, that got a lot of people off my back.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

I was treated very well by the study sections at NIH because of my past productivity …

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

… discovering the activity of the BCR-ABL oncoprotein while I was at J&J.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, I mean, that kind of credibility goes a long way ____ (over-talking)

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, I mean, I — I made things happen.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure. Absolutely. So, tell me about this vision you had for this department, you know, hiring, as you said, you know, the best people on the planet to study the mechanisms of proteins and how they — they lead to cancer. How did you go about creating that here? In this department?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, I had to get positions given to me and Dr. LeMaistre gave me faculty positions, not too many, and then I had to beg LeMaistre to give me more, to hire more people. We never had a big department and we were never very large. Cancer therapeutics, like 25 faculty members. We — we’ve never been over 10, so … I wasn’t into just quantity,I was interested in quality.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Who were the people you hired and why did you hire them?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, some people I inherited, but I didn’t take all the people I inherited. I said, no, this is not going to work out. I’m going to end up firing them sooner or later so I don’t want to take them in the first place. So there was Dr. Kwoh, who was — who I inherited. Dr. Sen, who I inherited. And then, I hired Dr. Mani from Harvard.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And that’s M-a-n-i?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

M-a-n-I, yeah. He’s on stem cells in cancer. And, Dr. Wong, I inherited – I didn’t inherit him. He was an outstanding Fellow in — in — in another department and he was looking for a faculty position, and I read his papers and I really liked what I saw.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What were you looking for?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, in his case, I was looking about how he was going to — to advance the field of understanding cancer cells, what happens inside cells. And, he was working on — excuse me, I just got the hiccups – he was working on reactive oxygen. I know you don’t know anything about that but … it turns out cancer cells produce reactive oxygen. Oxygen is a mutagen and the progression of cancer cells which is — that’s the bad thing about cancer — cancer – you get the cancer tumor and then it keeps changing --mutagenesis. And the reason is, mutagenesis is this reactive oxygen that’s produced by cancer cells …

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

How interesting. I didn’t know

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

… and Pei Wong uncovered many of the mechanisms of this — this production of reactive oxygen.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Hmm. Amazing. Hmm.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

1:31:5 He’s a really brilliant guy. Full professor now. I hired him as an assistant professor from another department, Khow from another department.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What were some of the other qualities you were looking for as you were recruiting to create this new department?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

I — I wanted vision and creativity. See, some people had departments here at MD Anderson and everything revolved around their work. I was not interested in having a bunch of people working on my projects. I wanted them to develop a unique set of research problems that were their own, not mine. I didn’t want them to depend on me so when I failed, they would still be strong. So, I had all these strong people that developed under me and they were — most of us, we were all funded independently. There wasn’t a pyramid of grant support like in some departments here. There was a whole variety of grants being approved and funded based on the — the people that were — that I hired that built their own pyramid, so to speak.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

In their own, in their own arena.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Their own structure

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Their own arena, yeah.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Their own arena.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

How has that evolved over the years? I mean, that’s 1986 …

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well …

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

You came back, so …

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well, now — but now, I’m gone, right? So, it’s no longer Chair, stepped down two years ago – I was asked, I didn’t volunteer.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Can you tell me why that was?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

I probably don’t know the whole story. I — I — I don’t know if I can answer that question. But, I do know — I knew that they were making up my mind and it was time to step away. So, I stepped away. You know, if they don’t want you …. it’s pretty obvious what you have to do.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. I’m sure it.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

So, I did. Of course, I was, what, 75? I’m 79 now, and mentally still going strong for my own stuff and … Actually, it didn’t bother me. It actually relieved me. I didn’t have — I got the same salary. I asked them, “Are you going to cut my salary?” And it took me a while to find out but they didn’t cut my salary. So I’m — I’m being treated very well. Except, some people thought it was my time – I’m not going to mention who – thought it was my time to step aside. And, hey, I didn’t say you can’t do that to me. I just said, okay, what’s the timeframe?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure. So, over the course of that time as Chair, what do you feel you accomplished in — as — in the department?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

I hired people like Tim McDonald, like ___ Mani, like Pei Wong, ___ Sen, who developed our own strong laboratories. And, Chen Kwoh. So, I had labs that could stand on their own, and if I died the next day, it wouldn’t matter. They’d still be strong and had their own money for their own grants, so I built a very strong funded department, maybe – I — I don’t know this – maybe one of the best funded basic science departments in the institution for years, because I hired strong people on their own that weren’t dependent on Ralph Arlinghaus. They were their own pillars of strength and ideas.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

How did you continue — I mean, once you hired these creative and strong people, how did you continue as a leader of this department? How did you continue to support that creativity and encourage it?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

I tried to continue to raise money for the budget, and things started to go — go downhill in that regard and I’m not going to say why. I could tell you why but, I don’t think I can tell you the story is true, but …

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, if you ____ (over-talking)

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

It was — it was — I did a very non-political thing as an editor of a journal and the — I’m going to say – you can’t use this.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Do you want me to turn off the recorder?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Yes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. [The recorder is paused.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Alright I’m turning the recorder back on after about a four-minute pause and you --- we were talking about how you continue to nurture the department and support these really strong people, talked about f --- you know generating funds. There was a kind of a difficult dry period that ensued. How did you ride that out?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well the people themselves --- are getting good support from themselves, but again I wasn’t helping them through getting money from the institution in general ways and --- and that may have been the beginning of the end for me when I was asked to step down. So --- But they were still doing well, but they lacked some of the what we call “core facilities” that other departments had.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

:3 Okay.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

So we’re totally being overlooked despite suc --- success of the individuals.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now let me ask you …

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

:02 And maybe, the people I reported to said, “Well, this is not going to stop so we’ve got to get somebody else.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. So kind of to save the department there was a change of leadership.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

So I think that’s probably true.

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Chapter 06: The New Department of Molecular Pathology

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