Skip to main content

Gutterman (Jordan), MD, Oral History Interview: Home

Interview Navigation Materials

Interview Navigation Material

 

Interview Profile

 

Submitted: 18 June 2014

Interview Information:

Three interview sessions: 12 April 2012, 13 April 2012, 19 April 2012
Total approximate duration: 5 hours

Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

For supplementary materials:

Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:
Javier Garza, MSIS, jjgarza@mdanderson.org

 

About the Interview Subject:

Dr. Jordan U. Gutterman (born in Flandreau, South Dakota) came to MD Anderson in 1971 as a Senior Fellow in the Department of Developmental Therapeutics.  He is currently Professor and Section Chief of the Department of Systems Biology.  Dr. Gutterman is best known for discoveries arising from his work directing the world’s largest clinical study of interferon.

 

Major Topics Covered:

Personal and educational background

Mary Lasker: a personal friend and professional/financial supporter

Research: Interferon; success with patients; largest clinical trial; hairy-cell leukemia; tests on other cancers

Research: Avicins and nutrition

Economics of clinical trials, drug testing; financial support for research

Ethics

The Department of Developmental Therapeutics

 

Regarding the Transcript and Audio Files

In accordance with oral history best practices, this transcript was intentionally created to preserve the conversational language of the interview sessions.  (Language has not been edited to conform to written prose).

The interview subject was given the opportunity to review the transcript.  Any requested editorial changes are indicated in brackets [ ], and the audio file has not correspondingly altered. 

Redactions to the transcript and audio files may have been made in response to the interview subject’s request or to eliminate personal health information in compliance with HIPAA.

 


 

Table of Contents

 

Interview Session One: 12 April 2012

 

Lessons from Family and the Liberal Arts
Chapter 01 / Personal Background
 

 

Mary Lasker Provides Personal and Financial Support for Research
Chapter 02 / The Researcher

 

[Chapter 03 redacted]

 

Research Challenges: Ethical Questions and Celebrity
Chapter 04 / The Researcher

 

Interferon and the Control of Hairy-Cell Leukemia: Controversies and Challenges
Chapter 05 / The Researcher

 

The Department of Developmental Therapeutics; Personal Stories and Reflections
Chapter 06 / An Institutional Unit

 

Interview Session Two: 13 April 2012

 

Testing Interferon Against Many Cancers
Chapter 07 / The Researcher
 

 

Furthering Research through Partnerships with Drug Companies
Chapter 08 / Industry Partnerships
 

 

Research Money: The Economics of Drug Companies; Philanthropy
Chapter 09 / Industry Partnerships

  

R. Lee Clark, Charles LeMaistre, and Philanthropic Houston Oilmen
Chapter 10 / Key MD Anderson Figures

 

Interview Session Three: 19 April 2012

 

Funding Innovative Clinical Research: Some Institutional Obstacles
Chapter 11 / Giving to/Fundraising at MD Anderson

 

Department Chair and Section Chief: Leadership Issues
Chapter 12 / The Administrator
 

 

Going on Record with a New Research Area; Avicins and Nutrition
Chapter 13 / The Researcher

   

Establishing a New Research Focus: Experiments, Money, Organization 
Chapter 14 / The Researcher

 


 

Chapter Summaries

 

 

Interview Session One: 12 April 2012 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00A
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 01 (Personal Background)
Lessons from Family and the Liberal Arts (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Personal Background
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Human Stories
  • Offering Care, Compassion, Help
  • Faith

In this chapter, Dr. Gutterman talks about growing up in a small South Dakota town, and the “amazing training” he received by accompanying his mother on her habitual visits to shut ins and ill neighbors.  He also reflects on his own character and the faceted approach he brings to medicine and science, given his broad interests in religion and philosophy (both of which he studied in college). 

 

Chapter 02 (The Researcher)
Mary Lasker Provides Personal and Financial Support for Research (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Portraits
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Mentoring
  • The Life and Dedication of Clinicians and Researchers
  • Business of Research
  • On Philanthropy and Volunteerism
  • Evolution of Career
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Collaborations

Dr. Gutterman discusses his close relationship with Mary Lasker (treated in depth in the 2006 sessions with Lesley Brunet), a philanthropist who was immediately interested in his interferon work in the seventies and who eventually gifted one million dollars toward his research.  Mrs. Lasker schooled him in dealing with people and in strategizing to get a job done in the face of obstacles.  Dr. Gutterman also talks about his gifts for visual thinking, his colorist paintings, and his habits of self-reflections which come from an interest in holistic systems.

 

Chapter 03 [redacted]

 

Chapter 04 (The Researcher)
Research Challenges: Ethical Questions and Celebrity (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Evolution of Career
  • On Research and Researchers
  • Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research
  • The History of Health Care, Patient Care
  • Discovery and Success
  • Ethics
  • On Ethics

Dr. Gutterman talks about how he dealt with two problems that the interferon studies raised.  First he discusses the ethics of selecting patients for treatment and of treating patients because they can afford to pay for an experimental drug (while others cannot pay).  He gives specific examples of patients he has treated.  Second, Dr. Gutterman talks about how he coped with the public attention and even notoriety that arose from his work.  He digresses and talks about how the Mary Lasker came to fund the Lasker Award to raise awareness of medical research.  

 

Chapter 05 (The Researcher)
Interferon and the Control of Hairy-Cell Leukemia: Controversies and Challenges (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • The Clinician
  • Ethics
  • Controversy
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Portraits
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors

Dr. Gutterman recounts one his great success stories with interferon –the control of hairy-cell leukemia.  He talks about the dramatic and unexpected results seen in patients with this heretofore incurable disease.  Next he talks about being accused of falsifying the promising data just before an appearance on the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour on PBS.   Dr. Gutterman then talks about the challenges of securing the drug to treat the disease and eventually working with the Finnish Red Cross to get interferon.  He then tells a touching anecdote about a plane passenger who described how interferon had cured his wife of hairy-cell leukemia and his family had toasted the doctors who had discovered it.  Dr. Gutterman then shifts back to the subject of his own family and links his persistence and desire to help to his upbringing and his roots in Russian immigrant values.

 

Chapter 06 (An Institutional Unit, Program)
The Department of Developmental Therapeutics; Personal Stories and Reflections (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Professional Path
  • Personal Background
  • Joining MD Anderson
  • Personal Reflections, Memories of MD Anderson
  • MD Anderson Past
  • Portraits
  • Formative Experiences
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Faith, Values, Beliefs
  • Evolution of Career
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work

In this chapter, Dr. Gutterman talks about MD Anderson and the Department of Developmental Therapeutics, which he joined as a Senior Fellow in 1971.  He first explains that his participation in the Berry Plan brought him to MD Anderson.  He talks about immediately sensing the spirit of freedom and possibility, the availability of money to support research, and the presence of many accomplished people, such as Dr. Emil J Freireich, who influenced him with his passion and intellect.  Dr. Gutterman speaks about his brother and father as inspirations as well as his own artwork, his paintings.  The session comes to a close with two personal stories that demonstrate that angiogenesis can both kill and heal.  

 

 

Interview Session Two: 13 April 2012 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00B
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 07 (The Researcher)
Testing Interferon Against Many Cancers (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Personal Reflections, Memories of MD Anderson
  • MD Anderson Past
  • Portraits
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Faith, Values, Beliefs
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Patients

In this chapter, Dr. Gutterman picks up the story of his interferon work during the early Eighties.  He explains that, after repeating his first experiments with the newly-manufactured recombinant interferon, he was eager to try the drug on other cancers, such as renal cell carcinoma and chronic myeloid leukemia.  This was a bold move in some eyes, but the unique intellectual environment in the Department of Developmental Therapeutics in the Seventies supported this kind of creative experimentation.  He speaks briefly about finding funding for this work, then focuses on his work with chronic myeloid leukemia (for which there was no treatment at the time). 

 

Chapter 08 (Industry Partnerships)
Furthering Research through Partnerships with Drug Companies (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Faith, Values, Beliefs
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Industry Partnerships
  • On Pharmaceutical Companies and Industry

In this chapter, Dr. Gutterman offers several examples of how he learned to work with drug companies to further his own research.  He was approached, for example, to test GMCSF [granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor] to restore platelet counts in chemotherapy patients.  He also learned to protect his intellectual property.  He attended meetings at the emerging drug companies and describes the impact of “seeing the power of venture money.”  He also observed how the biotech companies set up creative environments, sensing a kinship with the imaginative work they were doing. 

 

Chapter 09 (Partnerships with Drug and other Companies)
Research Money: The Economics of Drug Companies; Philanthropy (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Industry Partnerships
  • On Pharmaceutical Companies and Industry
  • Business of Research
  • Fiscal Realities in Healthcare
  • On Philanthropy and Volunteerism
  • On Research and Researchers
  • Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research
  • The History of Health Care, Patient Care
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Personal Background

In this chapter, Dr. Gutterman talks about working with “big pharma” and operating largely independently of MD Anderson.  He discusses the economics of pharmaceuticals, noting a lesson he learned from philanthropist Mary Lasker, who said “money is frozen energy.”  He talks about his own entrepreneurial spirit, linking it to his father’s business ventures and critiques “conservative approaches” to drug experimentation.  Dr. Gutterman ends this section with a passionate description of Houston philanthropy at that time.  He then responds to a question about the downside of working with drug companies, concluding, “Don’t count on the drug companies,” because he discovered interferon’s hairy cell leukemia at MD Anderson, with private money.

 

Chapter 10 (Key MD Anderson Figures)
R. Lee Clark, Charles LeMaistre, and Philanthropic Houston Oilmen (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Portraits
  • On Philanthropy and Volunteerism
  • On Research and Researchers
  • Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research
  • The History of Health Care, Patient Care
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Personal Background
  • Critical Perspectives on MD Anderson  
  • MD Anderson History
  • Experiences re: Gender, Race, Ethnicity
  • Critical Perspectives
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Discovery and Success

In this chapter, Dr. Gutterman shares memories and observations about Dr. R. Lee Clark and Dr. Charles LeMaistre.  This includes a narrative of how Dr. Clark worked with Mary Lasker to support Dr. Gutterman’s work on chronic myeloid leukemia, resulting in the use of interferon to suppress malignant clones while normal cells return.  Dr. Gutterman provides many examples of challenges that arose within the institution to hold back his work.  At the close of the session, Dr. Gutterman sketches the formation of the Interferon Foundation by several Houston oilmen, several of whom visited Charles LeMaistre to insist he remove obstacles to Dr. Gutterman’s work.

 

 

Interview Session Three: 19 April 2012 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00C
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 11 (Giving to/Fundraising at MD Anderson)
Funding Innovative Clinical Research: Some Institutional Obstacles (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • MD Anderson History
  • Discovery and Success
  • Critical Perspectives on MD Anderson  
  • Critical Perspectives
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Institutional Politics
  • Controversy
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Personal Background
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • On Research and Researchers
  • Understanding the Institution
  • On Pharmaceutical Companies and Industry
  • Ethics

In this chapter Dr. Gutterman comments on the reaction of MD Anderson –and then president Dr. Charles LeMaistre-- to the private funding of his interferon research.   He also underscores how unique MD Anderson is, with all of its many resources, intellectual, creative, financial, etc. 

 

Chapter 12 (The Administrator)
Department Chair and Section Chief: Leadership Issues (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Administrator
  • Leadership
  • MD Anderson History
  • Leadership
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • On Leadership
  • Evolution of Career
  • Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose
  • Critical Perspectives
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Institutional Politics

In this chapter, Dr. Gutterman comments on his role as Chair of the Department of Clinical Immunology and Biological Therapy, noting candidly that he was not passionate about administration and unable to manage the Department adequately.

 

Chapter 13 (The Researcher)
Going on Record with a New Research Area; Avicins and Nutrition (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Personal Background
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Faith, Values, Beliefs
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Patients
  • Cancer and Disease
  • MD Anderson History
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Institutional Politics
  • The Business of MD Anderson
  • Controversy
  • Portraits
  • On Texas and Texans
  • On Philanthropy and Volunteerism

For the first time, Dr. Gutterman goes on record with a discussion of his current research on avicins and nutrition, work that required him to “change fields” and study botany.  He explains that in the mid-Eighties he found inspiration in an early article on the isoflavone, Genistein, then speaks about the deaths of his mother and father, who instilled in him the values that serve as the foundation for that work.  He notes that the epidemiology of cancer itself suggests that its cure lies in the understanding the interaction of genes with the environment.  Near the end of this section, he notes that in 1994, financial difficulties at MD Anderson made it necessary for clinical departments to generate more revenue –another impetus for him to leave administration and find a new research arena.

 

Chapter 14 (The Researcher)
Establishing a New Research Focus: Experiments, Money, Organization (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Patients
  • Discovery and Success
  • MD Anderson History
  • Business of Research
  • On Philanthropy and Volunteerism

Dr. Gutterman then speaks at length about the intricacies of setting up his new research program.  He describes his new collaboration with botanist Dr. Charles Arntzen[1] at (the Biodesign Institute at the University of Arizona?) and the Clayton Foundation’s role in financing his research.  During the next half hour he details how he was invited to study desert plants in Tucson.  He believed that these plants must contain substances that protect them from UV light and dehydration, and that might be helpful in combating cancer.  He describes the long process of making extracts from the plants and the studies that revealed that one extract, from the acacia victoria, would kill ovarian cancer cells (and not kill normal cells).  He talks about the process of finding a lab to make a pure extract (needed in the late nineties), a goal achieved in October of 1998: “Now I have to learn chemistry,” Dr. Gutterman recalls saying.  He and colleagues successfully mapped the chemical structure of the active terpinioid and then embarked on discovering the mechanism of its action.  Near the end of this section he talks about how they named avicin and applied for the patent, awarded in 2002.  (This session ends abruptly, due to Dr. Gutterman’s throat irritation from allergies.) 


[1] http://sols.asu.edu/people/faculty/carntzen.php

Original Profile

Over the course of three sessions conducted in 2012 (totaling approximately 5 hours), Dr. Jordan U. Gutterman (born in Flandreau, South Dakota) is interviewed as a follow up to three interviews conducted between 2004 and 2006 by Lesley Brunet.  Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. interviews Dr. Gutterman in his office MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Research Park.   Dr. Gutterman came to MD Anderson in 1971 as a Senior Fellow in the Department of Developmental Therapeutics.  He is currently Professor and Section Chief of the Department of Systems Biology.  Dr. Gutterman’s office is decorated with examples of his paintings –studies of vibrant color in acrylic paint.  Also on display is the framed cover from the 30 March 1980 issue of Time Magazine, featuring the title: “Interferon: The IF Drug for Cancer.”  Dr. Gutterman is best known for discoveries arising from his work directing the world’s largest clinical study of interferon.

Dr. Gutterman earned his BA in Liberal Arts at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville (1960).  His M.D. was conferred in 1964 by the Medical College of Virginia, Richmond.  He went on to his Internship in Medicine at Duke Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina (1965), advancing to a Junior Assistant Residency and then a Hematology Fellowship.  He then served as Chief Resident in Medicine at that same institution before coming to MD Anderson.  Dr. Gutterman has received numerous awards, among them Milstein Award from the International Society for Interferon Research (1992).

In this interview, Dr. Gutterman discusses all dimensions of his work on interferon, from the research underpinnings and clinical challenges, to work of securing funding and dealing with celebrity.  He talks about his family background and its influence on his beliefs about clinical care as well as nutrition.  He also speaks for the first time on record about his work with avicins (derived from the acacia tree) and other plant substances with immuno-therapeutic properties.