John D. Minna, MD
For many physicians, regardless of specialty, the decision to pursue a medical career is made in childhood. For John D. Minna, MD, whose father had the largest family practice in San Diego and whose mother was the nurse who ran the office, his career path was cemented by the 500 house calls he went on with his dad when he was growing up. His career choice was a foregone conclusion.
These were Minna’s mentors, and their effect on his medical career set the stage for his future endeavors in lung cancer.
Beyond Medical School
Today, Minna serves as the director of the Hamon Center for Therapeutic Oncology Research, The Moncrief Center for Cancer Genetics, and co-director of the Experimental Therapeutics Program for the recently National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. It is the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in north Texas.
Following his time at MGH, he went on to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as part of the United States Public Health Service, and joined the laboratory of Marshall Warren Nirenberg, PhD, the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist who had just cracked the genetic code. Coincidentally, also working in the same laboratory were other young postdoctoral fellows who would go on to become famous scientists and Nobel Prize winners, Alfred G. Gilman, MD, PhD, and Joseph Goldstein, MD.
While he was conducting research in Nirenberg’s department, Minna also discussed his interest in cancer, developed during his tenure at Stanford Medical School, with Vincent T. DeVita Jr, MD, a 2013 Giants of Cancer Care award winner for his groundbreaking work in lymphoma, and his need to get more training.
“Can you believe how lucky I was?” said Minna. “Here I am, in a brand new job with huge clinical research responsibilities, and I have Paul Bunn, Dan Ihde, Martin Cohen, Mary Matthews, and Eli Glatstein, not only on my team, but teaching me every step of the way.”
Genetic Studies of Lung Cancer
The laboratory research portion of Minna’s work, which had been focused on genetics in general, now switched to genetic studies of lung cancer specifically.
“Again, I realized there was no way I could do this alone, especially with all of the clinical responsibilities that came with the position. Fortunately, I had a great collaborator and pathologist, Adi Gazdar, MD, who was already part of the NCI and famous for his work on tumor viruses.”
Minna approached Gazdar to “roll the dice and tackle something entirely new” to set up a genetic studies lung cancer branch at NCI.
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