Chapter 07: Building Dr. Clark’s Vision of the Basic Sciences in the Early 70s: Science Park, and New Departments


Chapter 07: Building Dr. Clark’s Vision of the Basic Sciences in the Early 70s: Science Park, and New Departments



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In this chapter, Dr. Bowen talks about growth during the 1970s at MD Anderson, the development of the virology program, and Dr. Clark’s vision for expansion. He also discusses the emergence of the Science Park research facility in Smithville, the development of basic sciences departments, and new international training programs, such as one in Italy, that MD Anderson sponsored.



Publication Date



Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution; Research; Working Environment; Building/Transforming the Institution; Institutional Politics; Controversy; Understanding the Institution; The Researcher; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot; Discovery and Success; Healing, Hope, and the Promise of Research; On Research and Researchers; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Portraits; Institutional Mission and Values; Leadership; On Leadership; The Business of MD Anderson; The Institution and Finances


James M. Bowen, PhD:

Well, this brought us well into the 1970s now, and the 1970s were a period of growth. M. D. Anderson was adding staff, faculty, programs, space, funding. Virology was proceeding and growing. We had a virology faculty with this huge contract program, had gone from 4 to about 20. Fifteen of those were paid on funds allocated through the contract. We thought of it as soft money. In those days, grant funds were considered soft money, state funds were considered hard money, and the transition and your perception of the institution's sense of your value was the movement of your salary and of the salary of your own personal staff from soft to hard money. That was an important concept, and one that we ultimately had to educate ourselves out of. And one that was a hard transition for many people, and I am not sure that everyone has fully made that intellectual transition yet. But in those days, it was very crisp. When you were new, you were on soft money, but when you began to establish yourself in the institution, you moved to hard money. I paid essentially all of my salary for the first nine or so years that I was at M. D. Anderson. I began to move partly to hard money and then totally to hard money. And it was then that I really felt like M. D. Anderson saw me as a potential long-term member of the Basic Science faculty. When committee assignments and other administrative jobs came along, I tried to be there to take them over. When Dr. Dmochowski organized the Department of Virology into subsections, I took over the Section of Tumor Virology, and had a small organizational structure within the department. But Dr. Dmochowski was a very centralized person. He wanted to know and to essentially be in charge of everything that went on within his framework. But in his own way, he was actually following Dr. Clark's lead because Dr. Clark was a living example of the old biblical adage about never a sparrow falling. Dr. Clark knew how much was spent on pencils in the institution annually, and in the early days particularly, he had an enormous capacity for understanding, and of assimilating the information into the larger picture. And that was what made him such a tremendous organizational leader. He never lost sight of the big picture, and he saw where every individual little component fit in, both present and future. It was incredible! Incredible! I knew no one that didn't look on him with a little bit of awe and a tremendous amount of admiration. And if you made him angry, there got to be a considerable level of fear in there, too, because Dr. Clark was a hard man to have angry at you. I am one of the lucky ones. I don't think I ever did. Eventually, as age and health problems began to overtake Dr. Dmochowski, Dr. Clark was growing and completely restructuring the basic science program at M. D. Anderson, to fit in to the new knowledge and the new availability, and the new sense of where the nation and the world were going in the biomedical sciences, as they related to cancer research. One of the things that Dr. Clark foresaw that some of us considered a bad step, a step backward at the time, was he saw that the virology component of biomedical science was changing from a more classical causation, symptomatology treatment approach to a much more molecular approach. He wanted to understand how viral genes interacted with host genes to turn a normal cell into a cancer cell. He felt now that chemical cancer causation and environmental cancer concerns were coming to the forefront, both in science and in practice, he began to believe in his own mind that there was a common denominator between chemical carcinogenesis. And when Dr. Dmochowski retired as chairman of the department, Dr. Clark called me in to his office and he said, "Jim, here's my plan, and if you want to be a part of this plan, it would be great. And if you don't, i'll allow you to step aside and do your thing, and I will find someone else." He said, "I want to reincorporate your department. I want to change its name from virology to molecular carcinogenesis. And I want you to develop affiliations with the other fundamental carcinogenesis programs in the institution, and at a new facility that I have in mind up near Smithville, which I am going to call the Environmental Science Park."

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

I visited there.

James M. Bowen, PhD:

It is quite a facility there.

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

Yes, it is. It is hidden away in the woods. You would never know it was there.

James M. Bowen, PhD:

And you will interview, I am sure, someone who will tell you how Dr. Clark developed that facility, and it was one of the remarkable stories of his career. I know a little bit about it but I was not involved firsthand. I said, "Dr. Clark, I see my role here as helping you carry out your vision. Now, I am hoping that you don't foresee a time when I will no longer be valuable to you in the institution, but you tell me what you would like done and I will do my best to do it. And if I can't do it, I will step aside and move and no problem." And so, to Dr. Dmochowski's heartbreak, because he was still around at that time. This was in about 1973-1974 when we were doing this. We changed the name of the department to Molecular Carcinogenesis, and began to sort of restructure how we were operating. In the meantime, other basic science programs were growing and expanding and restructuring. And also, clinical departments were developing really, really strong basic science programs. There was a time at the time when M. D. Anderson had a doctorate faculty, that is, M.D.s, Ph.D.s, dvms and ddss, of around 400, at least half of those basic science were actually clinical departments, not basic science departments. A matter of some tension within the faculty and the institution, but yet, something that I think ultimately greatly enhanced the overall research effort. And in enhancing the overall research effort, was always Dr. Clark's goal. If it stepped on the toes of some little individual political unit, Dr. Clark was prepared to do that; prepared to soothe the hurt feelings where possible, to compromise if essential, and to have a really nice going away party if that was the only way it could be done. And over the years, we saw examples of each of those scenarios and, you know, a few people left in anger, a few people left with a sense of their own particular value being inadequately recognized, but no one ever left with the idea that Dr. Clark made a mistake about a vision of the institution. He never, ever took his eyes off of it. The old adage of making no small plans was a real day-to-day working piece of theology for Dr. Clark. And he stayed with it.

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

Were the tensions of an individual nature or was it a tension of where the institution was going?

James M. Bowen, PhD:

Obviously, if I am a virologist, I believe that virology in and of itself has something to contribute. I also have some ego, some virological ego, invested in it. And we felt that we ought to be able to convince Dr. Clark that virology had an ultimate role to play. But if you go back and analyze the experience of those times, you can never really convincingly argue that any of us had a better view of the institution's destiny than Dr. Clark. What we felt was that we couldn't persuade him that our role in it ought to be larger. So, the way you asked the question, it was essentially invariably a personal view. In other words, I think we should get there by this route and you think we should get there by that route. The worst criticism that I ever heard made towards Dr. Clark was that he followed the money. That if there was more money in chemical carcinogenesis, the department became Molecular Carcinogenesis. When there was more money in virology, it was called Virology.

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

Is there a basis for that criticism?

James M. Bowen, PhD:

Oh, superficially, perhaps, because Dr. Clark knew that the institution could not support all the projects that it needed to carry out, and that the projects that were important, had to get their own financial support to at least some extent. And if they could not get financial support, then you had to ask the question whether or not they were worth the commitment of other institutional resources. So, to that extent, he followed the dollar, as the criticism went. But, in fact, it wasn't really so. What he did was create the atmosphere so that the dollars would follow the projects. But he watched very carefully what the national and international trends were. Not because he wanted to make sure that he followed them, but because he always wanted to stay ahead of them. And that was his goal. He said, "I don't want to confirm Dr. So and So's work at Sloan-Kettering. I want Dr. So and So to be out there confirming our work." And that was the view that he took. Well, this led over a period of time to a major restructuring of the basic sciences new departments. Virology ultimately was subsumed by a larger department called Tumor Biology which integrated aspects of cell biology, aspects of immunology, but as fields became significant intellectual zones in their own right. Dr. Clark was always good about creating departments. And, you know, when it was all over, there were 20 or so strong basic science programs. And Dr. Clark always had the capacity to recruit the best people from anywhere in the country if he wanted to. And if not in the country, he went outside the country and brought in outstanding people. He also had a tendency to allow the bringing in of young people for training, and then to keep the best ones. There was some criticism of some areas in some areas that this was inbreeding, but Dr. Clark's view was that if you trained people to do what M. D. Anderson does best, if there is a place for them, let them do it here. Let them give back the training that they received, although he also felt that the M. D. Anderson philosophy needed to be distributed to the country and the world. And we had enormous training agreements with institutions in Japan and in France, and in a variety of other places. And, as a matter of fact, there are very few leaders in the major institutions in those countries that have not had some training affiliation with M. D. Anderson. As an aside, just for our personal acquaintance, that is how I happened to go to Catania, Sicily, because we trained people who are now in leadership positions over there. For example, we trained their whole bone marrow transplant program, too, over there. And several of us have been over to see how they are doing and to see what other kind of training that we could contribute, and that sort of thing.

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Chapter 07: Building Dr. Clark’s Vision of the Basic Sciences in the Early 70s: Science Park, and New Departments