a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Judah Folkman and endostatins


My ideas for Cold Spring Harbor and work on cancer
James Watson Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments
My idea was to provide a place where young scientists could do important experiments and be offered jobs to move elsewhere. So, when people left, in a sense it was success, not failure. Until ’83 when Wiggler came and was offered a job at Princeton, and he’d just then isolated the first human cancer gene, and once you got to a certain size, it was getting a bit precarious. So, Mike got tenure. Whether he would have gone to Princeton, I think he knew he’d be a lousy teacher, but Princeton was big enough to have someone who just, you know, he didn’t make teacher because he added enough esteem to them. So I think he could have moved there without you know, he might have taught an undergraduate course for one year and you know, no one would have wanted to take the course the next year and it would have been over. Then Stillman got a job offer to go to Berkley and at that time I think I was running the genome project, so some tenure was coming in, and then we had got some money coming in. So, we got a gift of $8 million for a research fund, and that was, eventually was, you know, worth about $110 million. I think it’s down to about $60 million again with the market collapse. But the thing about Cold Spring Harbor is we were a success because we chose the right thing to work on, and also we had a disease. So, the neighbors, we could tell them we don’t understand cancer so they would enthusiastically give us money to understand cancer. Now things have changed. They want us to cure cancer, and Cold Spring Harbor isn’t a hospital and our people maybe they just think they can go on studying cancer. I think they will find that if the financial base falls away that after 50 years or so of studying cancer, don’t you know enough to cure cancer? Actually, I think we almost do. So, if I went into cancer research I'd only go in to cure it now, I wouldn't go in to understand it.
You think we understand enough?
Yes. I mean, you know, we understand Marburg effect, you know, and there are some pathways which really are only in early development which are really called into play in a number of cancers, so you get them and it’s not very toxic.
So you are optimistic about treatments?
Yes, I'm optimistic. I think the cancer community is more pessimistic than they should be. It’s just a way of life, studying cancer, and if they try and cure cancer, they will fail, whereas studying cancer, now, you can’t fail. You’ve got all these techniques, there are so many genes involved, you can always say the work is necessary and good. So, it’s just not at the frontier anymore.
So if you were dolling out funds you would fund direct attempts to treat?
Well, vaccines against cancer are going to work in some cases. So, and the Volkmann idea has never been tested. That is sort of my big goal now, is to finally get it tested. Unfortunately, I mean, because I don’t know where I can get it, the cancer community will never give it money to be tested, and the venture capital field isn’t giving any more money for anything except drug tests. So how we will fund this is not clear. But China has enough money, Singapore, you know.
So do you see vaccination as treatment or as prevention or both?
Probably best after you’ve had a cancer removed and you don’t have too many cells to kill. If you’ve got too many you probably can’t. The logistics are against you.
But even solid tumors?
If they’re small. So, you know, I think you are going to have to not have any too fixed beliefs. But I think what we have to really focus on is non-toxic things because your best really bet is prevention, or you know, no recurrence, yeah sure, surgery.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Martin Raff Walter Gratzer

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Duration: 5 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010