Chapter 05: MD Anderson In The mid-Sixties

Title

Chapter 05: MD Anderson In The mid-Sixties

Files

Loading...

Media is loading
 

Description

In this chapter, Dr. Alexanian provides a snapshot of MD Anderson when he arrived in 1964. He explains that Dr. Bergsagel wanted to combine clinical and basic research and the institution president, R. Lee Clark, MD, wanted to shorten the time between laboratory discoveries and delivery of treatment to patients. Dr. Alexanian lists the programs he inherited on arrival. He tells some history of the Department of Developmental Therapeutics and explains why he joined the Department of Leukemia.

Identifier

Alexanian_R_20140415_S05

Publication Date

4-15-2014

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - MD Anderson Past; MD Anderson Past; MD Anderson History; Multi-disciplinary Approaches; Research, Care, and Education in Transition; Portraits

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

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

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Interesting. So, coming to MD Anderson.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

So I began with this project, but also began to see patients and-

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So when you were hired here, what was your-

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

I had very limited experience, very limited in oncology. I had my two-year training in hematology, the fundamental two years, the first two years. So I did see some patients, a few patients, with leukemia or lymphoma or myeloma, very few, but I did see some. Dr. Finch was a teacher in all of these areas, and so I had some-and, of course, I had studied the textbooks and articles of these different diseases, but I had not seen a large number of patients.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So why did they bring you here? What was your [unclear]?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Well, the goal was to-at that time Dr. Bergsagel's ambition was to develop a department that combined basic with clinical research, so that in those days, Dr. Clark, who was the president, felt that it was important to shorten the time between the laboratory and the bedside. That was part of the philosophy of research in those days and still is now. So if one could shorten the time, one could help more patients. But as soon as I arrived, Dr. Bergsagel, who was then going to be my mentor, my new mentor-you remember I've had a number of mentors along-

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, very lucky too.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

-said that he was moving to Toronto and that I'm more or less on my own. But I also had other colleagues here, Dr. Schullenberger, who was head of hematology then, Dr. Gamble, who was head of medicine then, but they had less focus on research than Dr. Bergsagel. So Dr. Bergsagel invited me to join him in Toronto, and so I did go for an interview, and I and my wife said, "Hell, no, I'm not going up to Canada." (laughter) I just came from Seattle. We just had moved after a series of moves, and I was not ready. So here I am.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So here you are. Right. So that meant, wow, suddenly you're here at MD Anderson having research going without a mentor for the first time, really.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Without a mentor, but that was quickly partially resolved in different ways. First of all, as soon as I arrived, there was a Southwest Oncology Group that MD Anderson was part of with other academic centers in the Southwest, and I inherited Dr. Bergsagel's myeloma program that he had begun here. This is clinical trials in myeloma. However, there were also programs in lymphoma and leukemia, and Dr. Clark very rapidly then hired other leaders in these fields, like Dr. Frei and Dr. Freireich, who began their own department, who had a major influence on my research, because even though I was not physically in their department, they were major mentors in the area of clinical trials and studying disease and so on.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And just for the record, the department that Dr. Frei and Freireich were part of was Developmental Therapeutics.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Developmental Therapeutics. And since I was hired in hematology, I chose to stay in hematology since I felt it improper to change departments so soon after I had-

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

But you considered it?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

No, I didn't.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, you didn't consider it. Okay.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

I was invited to, and I made it clear that it was just too fast, too quick for me, and I'd just as soon learn from Dr. Frei and Freireich, who were very helpful and constructive, teaching me a lot. I went to all of their conferences and so on. So I had a new set of mentors, you might say.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

We have just a few minutes remaining today because I know you have something else to do after this.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

[unclear].

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yes, we have. It's almost quarter of.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Well, I can do eleven-until twelve.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, you can?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

You want to keep going?

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, great. Sure. That would be fine.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Let's keep going.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Okay. Terrific.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Because the more we can do today, the better.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, that's great.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Are you tired yet?

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

No, I'm good. (laughter) I just didn't want to make you late if you had something you had to do.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Am I covering the kind of ground you're looking for?

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Mm-hmm, yeah, and I'll certainly ask a question to direct focus if we need to do that. O One thing I wanted to ask you about is kind of your impressions of MD Anderson at the time when you arrived. I mean, it's a very different institution than it was by the time you left.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Yes. Well, by then, as you can imagine, I had already been at so many institutions, both in my education, including army hospitals and centers in England, because even in my training, it was customary in those days of more difficult travel that if you're going on a trip, by the way, stop off at this center and give a little talk or see what they're doing. So there was a kind of a custom to visit different centers in transit. So, going to England back, I must have visited ten different centers in transit to give talks and learn from them in different areas like Salt Lake City and Brookhaven and places at Cambridge and Paris, different places all over, who wee doing research similar to my area of study, so that I would present my data and they would critique it, which is good, and say, "Maybe you could do this better this way," or that way, and they would tell me their project. As a younger person, I wasn't as competent as they were in helping me as suggesting to them. So it was a very good experience. I don't know, I don't think that's done anymore in that way. It was more of a family of people in your field whom you engaged with. So where were we?

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

You were contrasting-

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Oh, my impressions of MD Anderson.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, mm-hmm.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Well, first of all, I was kind of happy that I had a job that I could say was my permanent job at least for a period and that I had a direction and project. I had my erythropoietin project and also clinical trials projects and myeloma or any other related cancers that would be of interest, and I was part of a team that was focusing on these different areas related to cancer so that there was more of a cancer-focus orientation. It was apparent very early that MD Anderson was a leading center for cancer research. There were only three at the time: there was Sloan-Kettering, MD Anderson, and Roswell Park. So I was at one of the three leading cancer centers. At this center, there was also a clear desire to develop in the field, to expand and move up, to build more, become bigger, more people, and so on, so that I was part of an ambitious program. Dr. Clark was a very, in a way, inspiring type of person. Even though he was a surgeon, he had kind of grand view of the future that was interesting. Of course, many of the people you hear in my training, college presidents and medical school deans, they all have a grand view for their own future, and so he was in that vogue of future. So it was different from what I had been exposed to before because it was cancer-focused and it was an institution-focused.

Chapter 05: MD Anderson In The mid-Sixties

Share

COinS