Mukherjee Provides Intimate Look at the Gene

Author Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee (l) with Dr. Michael Gottesman (c) and Dr. Doug Lowy
Author Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee (l) with Dr. Michael Gottesman (c) and Dr. Doug Lowy

The best book discussions raise thought-provoking questions, spark lively debate and leave us grappling with profound subjects. So it was most fitting that the inaugural NIH Big Read featured Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee talking about his latest book The Gene: An Intimate History.

Mukherjee, a cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia, described the prospects of gene editing, which are both exciting and ominous, and leave many unanswered questions. Speaking recently to a packed Masur Auditorium, including many NIH’ers who attended the four book discussions at the NIH Library leading up to the Big Read, he followed up his presentation by joining an informal conversation with NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.

As a cancer geneticist, Mukherjee said he wrote The Gene as a prequel to his award-winning The Emperor of All Maladies. Understanding cancer, he said, requires understanding how cells behave and mutate. Writing the book also was a personal journey, given his family’s history of mental illness. Its first pages discuss his visit to a mental hospital in India to see his first cousin, confined for severe schizophrenia.

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Schiffman Inspires, Educates On Cervical Cancer

Dr. Mark Schiffman

Listen up, those of you who have been around NIH for only a cup of coffee: Dr. Mark Schiffman’s Robert S. Gordon Jr. Lecture on May 3 might well have served as a primer on the meaning of an NIH career. It was heartfelt, impassioned, honest, funny, encouraging and offered good news about preventing cervical cancer via vaccination.

And it only cost NIH about $30,000 in lost productivity among those who attended, according to epidemiologist Schiffman’s calculations.

A senior investigator in the Clinical Genetics Branch of NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, Schiffman, who calls himself “a preventive medicine doc,” has spent his entire 35-year career at NIH.

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