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Return to Salk, as Chairman


Highs and lows of cancer research
Renato Dulbecco Scientist
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[Q] You were talking about monoclonal antibodies and things about the rat.

Yes, what I was saying, precisely, that unfortunately we didn't continue this any longer.

[Q] But why did you not continue this? Because you thought...

I don't know, because we didn't think that it could be a great help for diagnosis, for therapy, because there is a lot of variability in cancer. But in fact, what in men, in women what happens is that there is, in a third of cancers, there is a gene that develops a lot, that multiplies more than normal and therefore there was a very strong presence of this express protein in the cells.

[Q] And this is still for breast cancer?

For breast cancer, precisely. Therefore... but this is a rather special situation. Normally, monoclonal antibodies against cancers, there are only a few that are useful. Yes, if we had continued with this, perhaps we would have... but well, these are the things of research, highs and lows of research. So, now we arrived at this point. Then, there was a lot of interest in the institute to do with AIDS, which became the disease of the moment, so they wanted me to return to virology more than anything else, rather than continuing in that direction. And then I organised because I didn't know anything about this area to go and spend a little time in Basel, where there was this immunology institute. Naturally, in AIDS the immunological issue is very important so, only to understand a little, to see, to speak to people and this... therefore I went in 1988, I was there and I started to work a little in this area, essentially speaking and listening.

[Q] Parlavi degli anticorpi monoclonali e delle cose sul ratto.

Sì, ecco quello che dicevo, appunto, che purtroppo non l'abbiamo più continuato questo.

[Q] Ma non l'avete continuato per quale ragione? Perché pensate...

Non lo so, perché non abbiamo pensato che potesse essere di grande aiuto per la diagnostica, la terapia, perché nel cancro c'è tanta variabilità. Ma infatti, quello che nell'uomo, nella donna quello che succede è che c'è, in un terzo dei cancri, c'è un gene che si sviluppa molto, che si moltiplica più del normale e perciò c'era questa proteina espressa molto fortemente sulle cellule.

[Q] E sempre per il cancro del seno questo?

Per il cancro del seno, appunto. Perciò... ma questa è una situazione un po' speciale. Normalmente, anticorpi monoclonali contro cancri, ce ne è ben pochi che sono stati utili. Sì, questo se avessimo continuato, avremmo forse... ma insomma, queste sono poi le cose della ricerca, il più e il meno della ricerca. Dunque, adesso siamo arrivati a questo punto. Poi, c'era molto interesse nell'istituto sopra l'AIDS, che era diventata la malattia del momento, per cui volevano, appunto, volevano che io ritornassi alla virologia più che altro, piuttosto che continuare in quella direzione. E allora avevo organizzato perché non sapevo niente di questo campo di andare a passare un po' di tempo a Basilea, lì dove c'è questo istituto di immunologia. Naturalmente, nell'AIDS il problema immunologico è molto importante, insomma, solo per capire un po', per vedere, parlare alla gente e questo... perciò ero andato lì nell'88, sono stato lì e ho cominciato a lavorare un po' su questo campo, più che altro insomma essenzialmente parlando e ascoltando.

The Italian biologist Renato Dulbecco (1914-2012) had early success isolating a mutant of the polio virus which was used to create a life-saving vaccine. Later in his career, he initiated the Human Genome Project and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 for furthering our understanding of cancer caused by viruses.

Listeners: Paola De Paoli Marchetti

Paola De Paoli Marchetti is a science journalist who graduated with an honours degree in foreign languages and literature from the University Ca’Foscari, Venice. She has been a science journalist since the 1960s and has been on the staff of the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore since 1970. She was elected president of UGIS (Italian Association of Science Journalists) in 1984. She has been a Member of the Board of EUSJA (European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations, Strasbourg), and was its president in 1987-1988 and 1998-2000. In May 2000 she was unanimously elected president emeritus. She was a member of the National Council of Italian Journalists (1992-1998). From 2002 to 2004 she was member of the working group for scientific communication of the National Committee for Biotechnology. She has also been a consultant at the Italian Ministry of Research and Technology and editor-in-chief of the publication MRST, policy of science and technology. She has co-authored many publications in the field of scientific information, including Le biotecnologie in Italia, Le piste della ricerca and Luna vent’anni dopo.

Tags: cancer, breat cancer, research, rats, AIDS, immunology

Duration: 2 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008