Charles L. Sawyers, MD
During his undergraduate years at Princeton University, Charles L. Sawyers, MD, studied history. Now, well into his career as a physician and translational scientist, Sawyers is busy making it. Currently chair of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, he has played a seminal role in the discovery of three groundbreaking cancer drugs. And in developing these drugs, he has helped to create an approach to the treatment of cancer that has transformed cancer research.
History Provides a Lesson in Research
Sawyers was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, into a family of physicians: a grandfather, father, two uncles—all surgeons—and a mother, an anesthesiologist. As a young student, he excelled in mathematics and science, so one would have thought that a career in science, especially medicine, was inevitable. Yet, when he headed off to Princeton University for his undergraduate education, those areas of study were far from his mind. Instead, he chose to major in history. A liberal arts education, he felt, would broaden and enrich his outlook on life. Ultimately, he said, it contributed to his ability to isolate and analyze science problems.
Learning to Be a Scientist
After graduating from Princeton, Sawyers enrolled in Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Hopkins had an outstanding faculty made up of people who were involved both in teaching medical students and running a laboratory, combining research with clinical activity,” he said. At Hopkins, Sawyers was greatly impressed and influenced by Donald S. Coffey, PhD, a faculty member and researcher who worked on prostate cancer. “He is a man of great personal charm and charisma, with a renegade spirit that I greatly admire,” said Sawyers. Coffey, according to Sawyers, also has a unique talent: to get students genuinely interested in a problem, to get them to dig into it, and to get them excited about biomedical science.
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