David Baltimore


My interest in Biology began when I was a high school student and spent a summer at the Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. There I first experienced research biology and saw research biologists at work; this experience led me to become a biology major in college.

I went on to Swarthmore College where I began as a major in biology but switched to chemistry later so that I could carry out a research thesis. Between my last two years at Swarthmore I spent a summer at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories working with Dr. George Streisinger, and the experience of working with and watching that great teacher led me to molecular biology.

I started graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in biophysics, but when I decided to work on animal viruses I left M.I.T. to study for a summer with Dr. Philip Marcus at the Albert Einstein Medical College and to take the animal virus course at Cold Spring Harbor, then taught by Dr. Richard Franklin and Dr. Edward Simon. I joined Dr. Franklin at the Rockefeller Institute to do my thesis work and then continued in animal virology as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. James Darnell. I had already found that much could be learned by studying virus-specific enzymes, so I studied for a while with Dr. Jerard Hurwitz at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to learn from someone who knew enzymology as a professional.

My first independent position was at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California where I had the rare opportunity to work in association with Dr. Renato Dulbecco. After 2 1/2 years away from a university setting, I returned to M.I.T. in 1968 and have remained there. In 1974, I joined the staff of the M.I.T. Center for Cancer Research under the directorship of Dr. Salvador Luria because I had found that my research interests, that previously had involved mainly the non-oncogenic RNA viruses, were more and more focused on the problems of cancer.

Date and place of birth
March 7, 1938 in New York, New York
1956-1960 Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania B.A. with high honors in Chemistry, 1960
1960-1961 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge Massachusetts, graduate courses toward Ph.D.
1961-1964 Rockefeller University, New York, New York. Ph.D. received in 1964
Positions held
1963-1964 Postdoctoral Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.
1964-1965 Postdoctoral Fellow, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York
1965-1968 Research Associate, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California
1968-1972 Associate Professor of Microbiology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.
1972-present Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.
1973-present American Cancer Society Professor of Microbiology

From Les Prix Nobel en 1975, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1976

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/ Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1975

Addendum, May 2005

In 1975, when I received the Nobel Prize, I was already in New York on sabbatical, investigating the possibility of moving from virology into immunology. When I returned to MIT, I did reorient my laboratory and from then on I have pursued a mix of immunology and virology. Today that takes the form of an interest in using retrovirus vectors to modify the immune system.

Our most significant discovery in immunology was probably the identification of the protein pair that rearranges immunoglobulin genes, the so-called RAG proteins. This was actually done by two graduate students, David Schatz and Margie Oettinger. We turned to examining the transcription factors that modulate the development of B lymphocytes and discovered the key transcription factor, NF-KB.

We studied B lymphocyte development mainly using cells immortalized by the Abelson mouse leukemia virus. While examining the ability of this virus to cause cell transformation and cancer, we discovered that its oncoprotein was a tyrosine-specific protein kinase. This was a unique enzymatic activity at the time, also discovered by Tony Hunter. This observation led to the development of Gleevec, one of the most successful anti-cancer drugs and the first small molecule to target the activity of an oncoprotein.

While carrying out an active research program, I found myself drawn to administration of scientific institutions and I have maintained both interests to this day. My first foray into administration came about through an encounter with Mr. Jack Whitehead. He offered me the opportunity to start a small research institute, which he would fund. We founded the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research as an independent entity allied with MIT, devoted mainly to developmental biology. I was able to attract an amazing faculty and the Whitehead has continued as a great institution. One of its faculty, Eric Lander, was the driving force for the sequencing of the human genome and he has now generated an offspring of Whitehead, the Broad Institute.

I went from MIT and Whitehead to New York in 1990 to be President of the Rockefeller Institute, my graduate alma mater. I only stayed in that position through 1991 because a misconduct case against a collaborator of mine became a drag on my effectiveness. I returned to MIT in 1994 but was again taken away in 1997 to be President of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). For the last eight years I have had the honor and challenge of running this great institution, described by my wife as the last ivory tower. As a student, I had learned about the physical sciences but as a biological research scientist I had had little interaction with the great advances in the field; coming to Caltech greatly broadened my appreciation for the remarkable advances being made across the board in science and technology.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2005

To cite this section
MLA style: David Baltimore – Biographical. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Wed. 27 Sep 2023. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1975/baltimore/biographical/>

Back to top Back To Top Takes users back to the top of the page

Coming up

This year’s Nobel Prize announcements will take place 2–9 October. All announcements will be streamed live here on nobelprize.org.

See the full schedule
Announcement dates

Explore prizes and laureates

Look for popular awards and laureates in different fields, and discover the history of the Nobel Prize.