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Meistrich (Marvin L.), PhD, Oral History Interview: Home

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Interview Information:

Total approximate duration: 3 hours 50 minutes

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:

 

Marvin L. Meistrich,[1] PhD, (10 October 1941, Brooklyn, New York) came to MD Anderson in 1772 as a 1972  as an Assistant Biophysicist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Experimental Radiotherapy in what was then called the Division of Radiotherapy.

Today he is a Professor in Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology, in the Division of Radiation Oncology.  Dr. Meistrich is also a member of the Center for Radiation Oncology Research Group.

He is known for his work on spermatogenesis and has made a major contribution to categorizing the effects of chemotherapy treatments on male fertility.  He retired to a partial appointment in 1012, retiring fully in 2017.  In this interview, Dr. Meistrich speaks at length about his research into spermatogenesis, about collaborations that led to changes in patient care, and about the environment for this research and care at MD Anderson.  He also speaks about his patient experiences and receiving an incorrect cancer diagnosis.

 

Major Topics Covered:

Personal background

Educational path

Research: spermatid nuclear proteins, spermatogenesis, impact of chemotherapy on oncofertility; cryopreservation  and transplantation

 Attitudes toward addressing issues of oncofertility and sperm banking at MD Anderson

Research culture

The Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology, history of

Institutional change and growth

Retirement process

 

About transcription and the transcript

This interview had been transcribed according to oral history best practices to preserve the conversational quality of spoken language (rather than editing it to written standards).

The interview subject has been given the opportunity to review the transcript and make changes: any substantial departures from the audio file are indicated with brackets [ ].

In addition, the Archives may have redacted portions of the transcript and audio file in compliance with HIPAA and/or interview subject requests.


[1] Pronounced my-strish.​​​​​

Table of Contents

 

Interview Session One: 11 April 2017

 

Always Focused on Science and Math
Chapter 01 / Personal Background

 

Exploring Physics Major in College and Early Graduate School
Chapter 02 / Educational Path

 

A Diagnosis and a Changing Career Focus
Chapter 03 / The Patient

 

Postdoctoral Study in Biophysics
Chapter 04 / Educational Path

 

Early Research on Spermatogenesis
Chapter 05 / The Researcher

 

Coming to MD Anderson to Work on Oncofertility
Chapter 06 / Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas

 

Study of Nuclear Proteins in Sperm Cells and on Stem Cells
Chapter 07 / The Researcher

 

Studying Fertility in Humans; Part II of the Cancer Story
Chapter 08 / The Researcher

 

 

Interview Session Two: 2 May 2017

 

Conducting Fertility Research: Challenges and Results
Chapter 09 / The Researcher

 

Fertility Research and the Value of Technology and Advanced Techniques
Chapter 10 / The Researcher

 

An Overview of the Department Experimental Radiation Oncology
Chapter 11 / An Institutional Unit

 

Views on Changes at MD Anderson Since the Seventies
Chapter 12 / Building the Institution

 

Transitioning to Full Retirement: Institutional Challenges
Chapter 13 / Post-Retirement Activities

 

Chapter Summaries

 

 

Interview Session One: 11 April 2017 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00A
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 01 (Personal Background)
Always Focused on Science and Math (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Personal Background

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich, an only child, talks about his parents and his early realization that he wanted to focus on science and mathematics.  He notes that two of his uncles were engineers and had an influence on him.  He also explains that he wanted to attend one of New York City’s science high schools and explains how he came to attend Brooklyn Tech [Brooklyn Technical High School], where he received very rigorous academic training.  He notes the influence of his favorite teacher, who taught him the basic principles of calculus.  Dr. Meistrich comments briefly on his preference for seeing data on a screen or on paper to be able to identify similarities and differences.

Chapter 02 (Educational Path)
Exploring Physics Major in College and Early Graduate School (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Personal Background

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich talks about his early college experiences as a physics major at

RPI [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York; BS 1962].  He explains that he came in with a good academic foundation and enjoyed the social life in college.  He notes that college exposed him to mechanical shop courses, enabling him to build objects and structures, and he explains the importance of this.  He talks about his decision to specialize in solid state physics and pursue an academic career, furthering his education at Cornell University [PhD, 1967].

 

Chapter 03 (The Patient)
A Diagnosis and a Changing Career Focus (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Patient
  • The Researcher
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Experiences Related to Gender, Race, Ethnicity
  • Formative Experiences
  • Evolution of Career

Dr. Meistrich begins this chapter by explaining that after a couple of years, he was becoming disenchanted with physics and began looking at other fields.  Then, in January of 1965, he had a lump removed and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Dr. Meistrich explains when he was prescribed radiotherapy, he asked about the effects on his fertility, and did not receive a satisfactory response.  He talks about the treatment, and explains that his diagnosis and poor prognosis made him question whether to return to his graduate program.  He did go back and decided to shift his focus to biophysics.  He talks about some of the courses he began taking in that area.

 

Chapter 04 (Educational Path)
Postdoctoral Study in Biophysics (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Evolution of Career

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich talks about his two postdoctoral programs, the first in Radiation Biology at Bell Telephone Laboratories [Murray Hill, New Jersey, 1967−1969], where he conducted nuclear magnetic resonance studies on proteins.  He also explains how, at this time, he became interested in genetic studies. 

Next he talks about his postdoctoral program at the Ontario Cancer Institute [Toronto, Canada, 1969−1972], where he worked with a group of medical physicists.  He also notes that physicians at the cancer institute looked at his own case, but did not do much for him.

 

Chapter 05 (The Researcher)
Early Research on Spermatogenesis (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher;
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Overview
  • Discovery and Success
  • Joining MD Anderson
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich discusses his the early work on spermatogenesis that he conducted at the Ontario Cancer Institute.  He explains that he liked the precision of the process that cells undergo to product a mature sperm cell.  He explains that he was focused on separating cells at different phases of the developmental process so that the proteins in their nuclei could be analyzed biochemically.

[The recorder is paused.]

Dr. Meistrich points out the different stages of sperm cell development.  [He refers to diagrams during this discussion.]  He notes that in 1974 he discovered a new transition protein in the nucleus; he focused on nuclear proteins from the early seventies to the mid-200s. 

 

Chapter 06 (Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas)
Coming to MD Anderson to Work on Oncofertility (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Evolution of Career

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich talks about how he came to MD Anderson.  He explains that after five years of postdoctoral work, he felt ready for a faculty position.  He describes the first phase of his job search and notes that he was attracted to a job at MD Anderson because of positive reports he had heard about Rob Withers, the new chair of the Department of Radiotherapy.

 

Chapter 07 (The Researcher)
Study of Nuclear Proteins in Sperm Cells and on Stem Cells (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Discovery and Success
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Multi-disciplinary Approaches

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich talks about how his research evolved once he arrived at MD Anderson.  He first sketches the collegial social and research environment.  Next, he explains that he collaborated with researchers in biochemistry to work on nuclear proteins of sperm cells in mice, noting that three of his papers are listed among the top ten citations on separation of sperm cells.  He explains the impact of these studies.

Next, Dr. Meistrich describes a new line of animal research, looking into how regeneration of fertility can occur after stem cells are destroyed.  This involved first studying the effects of chemotherapies and identifying which destroyed stem cells.  Next, studies investigated how to predict how long sterility would persist once the stem cells were destroyed.

 

Chapter 08  (The Researcher)
Studying Fertility in Humans; Part II of the Cancer Story (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • The Patient
  • Personal Background
  • Multi-disciplinary Approaches
  • Discovery and Success
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Research

Dr. Meistrich begins by explaining that he began to explore how to study the effects of chemotherapy on human fertility.  In the late seventies, he designed an n of one protocol to collect sperm samples before and after chemotherapy.

Next, he tells the story of going to the MD Anderson clinic to address his own cancer.  He arranged to have his pathology slides transferred to MD Anderson.  Dr. Jim Butler then informed him that he had been misdiagnosed and had a non-malignant tumor.

He continues with his story of human research.  He explains why MD Anderson clinicians were not eager to pursue studies that detailed the effects of chemotherapy on male fertility.  He explains the first protocol approved.  He talks about his reliance on Miguel Dakuna, who spoke to the patients involved in the study, and talks about the results, published in 1983 or ’84. 

Next, Dr. Meistrich describes the multidisciplinary approach to treating lymphoma patients.  He notes that the lymphoma group was decreasing the number of doses of MOPP chemotherapy from four to two.  Dr. Meistrich conducted studies on the effects on fertility, noting that the lower number of doses preserved fertility.

He notes that he had a very good working relationship with the Lymphoma Section as well as with the Melanoma/Sarcoma Clinic.  He explains that one of his most important accomplishments was to characterize how different doses of chemotherapy have differing sterilizing effects.

 

Interview Session Two: 2 May 2017 (listen/read)

Chapter 00B
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 09 (The Researcher)
Conducting Fertility Research: Challenges and Results (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Personal Background
  • The Patient
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Research
  • Discovery and Success
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Overview
  • Critical Perspectives on MD Anderson

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich expands on his discussion of fertility preservation research in session one.  He first notes that his personal experience of being treated for suspected lymphoma inspired him to conduct fertility research, then he goes on to discuss his efforts to institute sperm banking at MD Anderson.  He notes that he and his assistant were “very naïve” about the legal issues involveonce the administration became aware of what they were doing, there was little support for creating an MD Anderson sperm bank.  Dr. Meistrich talks about the advantages that such a repository would offer to patients and to researchers.  He explains the difficulties of acquiring samples for research, given current regulations.

Next, Dr. Meistrich talks about changes in addressing fertility and sexuality issues with patients, a topic that was rarely addressed when he began work in the area.  He notes two contributors to this areLeslie Schover, PhD in the Department of Behavioral Science and Terri Woodard, MD,

In Gynecologic Oncology. 

Next, Dr. Meistrich discusses challenges to collaborating with other departments in making movement in this area.  He observes that there was more of a collaborative spirit in the past.  He then gives an example of a good collaboration with a colleague who supported his interest in using equipment to perform laser-capture micro-dissection.

Dr. Meistrich then continues with his discussion of fertility preservation, noting that the simplest solution is sperm banking.

He then speaks about his interest in addressing fertility in pediatric cancer patients, for whom freezing tissues is a good option.  He explains that this is not a high priority at MD Anderson.  He explains a study he conducted on the process of using cryo-preservation and transplantation to restore fertility, with a report on his positive results.

 

Chapter 10 (The Researcher)
Fertility Research and the Value of Technology and Advanced Techniques (listen/read)

Topics Covered

  • Overview
  • The Researcher
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Devices, Drugs, Procedures
  • Technology and R&D

In this chapter, Dr. discusses several of his research projects to demonstrate the value of technology and advanced techniques in driving discovery.  He first lists some of the key advances that have made a difference to research: DNA sequencing technology, molecular techniques, and the ability to make transgenic animals among them.  He talks about the methods he used in the transplantation study (described in Chapter 09), and also talks about cellular and in vitro techniques that have been developed in the last five years.

Dr. Meistrich then goes on to give examples of work using the genetic analysis of sperm and talks about his results.  He also discusses the impact of the discovery of mini- and micro-satellites in DNA sequences.  He talks about a collaborative study he did on the effects of chemotherapy on these strings, noting that they were not affected by chemotherapy or radiation.

He then notes that progress needs to be made in the accuracy of sequencing an entire genome and discusses what that would enable.

 

Chapter 11 (An Institutional Unit)
An Overview of the Department Experimental Radiation Oncology (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Critical Perspectives on MD Anderson
  • Research
  • Care; On Care

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich talks about shifts in emphasis that new department chairs brought to the department.  He observes that when he arrived at MD Anderson, the department was new, collaborative, and researchers conducted a lot of “good radiation biology.”  When the chair, H. Rodney Withers left in around 1980, Ray Mind served as interim chair until Junjie Chen was appointed.  He explains that Dr. Chen recruited good faculty, but shifted emphasis away from projects that focused on experimental radiation therapy that would serve patients.  Dr. Meistrich talks about the pros and cons of this, but emphasizes that currently the faculty in the department are not conducting research to enhance the understanding of how radiation can serve clinical applications and clinicians’ needs.  He notes that departments at other institutions are also shifting emphasis in this way.

 

Chapter 12 (Institutional Change)
Views on Changes at MD Anderson Since the Seventies (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Growth and/or Change
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Institutional Politics
  • Controversy
  • MD Anderson in the Future
  • Critical Perspectives on MD Anderson
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Working Environment
  • The Business of MD Anderson; The Institution and Finances
  • Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion
  • MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich reflects on changes to the institution over the course of his career, beginning with the recent institutional turbulence under Dr. Ronald DePinho [oral history interview].  He explains some reasons why Dr. DePinho was very unpopular with the faculty.  He explains his hopes that the institution regains financial security despite not having preferred provider status among insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield.  He recalls that he and many other faculty members were very optimistic that Dr. DePinho would bring positive change as he was the first qualified scientist to occupy the president’s office.  He explains that a scientist could drive the development of a higher quality faculty with more National Academy members.

Next, Dr. Meistrich reflects on changes to MD Anderson culture that have come with increase in size.  He talks about the change in ambiance and the lack of connection among faculty.  He also observes that changes in the ethnic distribution of researchers has contributed to a less collegial culture.

 

Chapter 13 (Post-Retirement Activities)
Transitioning to Full Retirement: Institutional Challenges (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Critical Perspectives
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Post Retirement Activities
  • Institutional Processes
  • Devices, Drugs, Procedures
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Working Environment

In this chapter, Dr. Meistrich sketches some of his frustrations with MD Anderson administration regarding his retirement.  He explains that he officially retired in 2012, but was appointed to modified service to continue his research.  He elected not to take his salary in order to not to siphon funds from his grants.  He next explains new administration rules that faculty with modified service must have a minimum salary. He explains the problems this creates, noting that he does not want to retire, but the administration seems to be creating incentives to push individuals to full retirement.  He sketches the contributions that retired and emeritus faculty provide to other institutions.

In the final minutes of the interview, Dr. Meistrich notes that he would like to see the Faculty Senate work more productively within the institution.  He comments on the value of the seven-year renewable tenure model.