Richard Nixon was not my favourite President of the United States of America, but he declared his famous War on Cancer while I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I was then working in the Department of Medicine in the laboratory of Irving London, who was Head of that department. This was a remarkable privilege for a young scientist: to be a first‐hand witness of the emerging interface between medicine and molecular biology. By 1970, haematology had long been a molecular business and was a specialty in which—for a variety of simple practical reasons—the distance between basic and applied research was very short. But other specialties, of which perhaps virology would be a good example, did not lag far behind and thanks to Mr Nixon, many of my senior colleagues switched from studying bacterial to human viruses. When my boss moved to MIT, I began to visit Cambridge and one day ran into David Baltimore who told me that he couldn't stop for a chat because he'd just discovered an enzyme that made DNA from an RNA template. Had I heard aright? I had, and it was not long before the basic biology of retroviruses had been worked out, bringing with it as added bonus, the discovery of oncogenes and the insights that they have yielded. By the time the AIDS virus had been successfully grown in culture, its further study could take place within a very well‐understood conceptual framework in a remarkably short space of time. Developing a successful vaccine is quite another matter. Some of my best friends are immunologists, and the problems they face are the equivalent of charting a new world.
When the idea of an EMBO‐sponsored Molecular Medicine journal was first mooted, I mentioned the idea to some friends at the Institute for Molecular Medicine in Oxford and was pleased to discover that they very much liked it. Partly, this was because there are too few top‐class broad interest journals where the results of molecular medicine research can be published.
»join us in making this new journal a vibrant meeting place«
If you are lucky, one of the top journals will find your work interesting. If not, then the work almost certainly has to end up in one of the many specialized journals—wherever it belongs—so only your fellow specialists will see it. My molecular medical friends made another important point. Now that advances in DNA mapping and sequencing have made it much easier to track down extremely rare genetic diseases, there is an increasing flow of information about the connection between genes and diseases. Not all this information is easy to interpret. The studies do illuminate the disease, of course, but at the same time they often reveal aspects of cell biology previously unknown. This is not a new phenomenon. To understand pathological cholesterol metabolism, Brown and Goldstein had to discover receptor‐mediated endocytosis. I hope it will not be long before many of the common mental illnesses, from autism to depression, have molecular explanations that will help dispel the stigma of hopeless parents, unhappy childhoods or the forces of destiny.
Here is my call to basic researchers and clinicians alike; join us in making this new journal a vibrant meeting place for those who seek to understand diseases in terms of molecules, and of course, to understand the normal function(s) of the molecules whose loss or damage causes the disease.
↵† Tim Hunt is Principal Scientist at Cancer Research UK and is Chair of EMBO Council.
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