Weill Cornell Medicine Honors Dr. Carl Nathan

February 28, 2020

Passionate, ingenious and humble. Scholar. Tenacious. Impactful. Describing Dr. Nathan in one word is an extremely
difficult uh problem. He is a paragon of medical excellence. Mensch. A brilliant scholar and a compassionate human,
so I guess I need those adjectives. The impact that Carl has had at Weill Cornell Medicine and beyond is uh, truly legendary He simply has done it all, he’s a quintessential physician-scientist who has made fundamental
discoveries in his labs, he’s been interim dean, dean, dean of the graduate school, he was the founding director of the Tri-I MD-PhD program. Carl is just one of the pillars of
Weill Cornell Medicine. In my lab one of the mottos of the lab is
“Carl Nathan is always right.” So when Carl publishes a paper everybody in
the lab knows that they have to read the paper. I’m not aware of anyone who has made such
spectacular achievements both as an immunologist and as a microbiologist. He’s also a biochemist, a chemist and um
he does it with such grace, enthusiasm and commitment. He’s one of the premier scientists in the
world. Dr. Nathan was a clinician at the beginning
of his career and then switched to research trying to answer the bigger questions of how
we treat patents and why we treat patients the way we do. He’s really discovered two key factors that
help to explain why the immune system works. Carl spent the first decade of his scientific
career really identifying the molecular mechanisms by which macrophages kill organisms. He did seminal work in the regulation of the
function of nitrous oxide, that helps kill bacteria. Carl’s uh research has laid the foundation
to an understanding of innate immunity which is extremely important in control of infectious
disease. Well Carl has been looking at new ways to
treat tuberculosis, it’s mostly a problem outside of the United States. In 2017 1.6 million people died of TB. Tuberculosis is evolving to become resistant
to many of our best drugs. And Carl has really pushed this area where
others have not. His research lays the groundwork for lots
of discoveries and in the long run I think has tremendous potential to lead to new therapeutics
or even vaccines. Carl really has been a leader in coming up
with creative ideas about how to address many of the serious problems we face. He recognized that academia could come up
with ideas but was ill-equipped to really develop drugs. We founded the tri-institutional therapeutics
discovery institute in order to develop drugs from out of the community. Rockefeller University, Sloan-Kettering, and
Weill Cornell Medicine and then brought in pharmaceutical experts as partners to help
us do this. Carl was a particularly strong proponent of
this idea, that any kind of drug could be developed. He’s very concerned about orphan drugs that
large drug companies don’t pursue but which he knows are needed by patients. That visionary leadership coupled with his
commitment to social justice has really been the hallmark of his career. Well beyond his work with Weill Cornell Carl
makes an extraordinary commitment to selecting the next generation of outstanding young scientists through the Rita Allen Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee. So I’m very lucky that Carl is a member
of the cancer research institute scientific advisory council, he’s done this for more
than thirty years and thanks to him we know that we’re supporting the best research. So I think this is a man that packs an awful
lot into a 24 hour day. His leadership is felt every day by the students,
his trainees, the faculty. He shaped my career because he always helped
me grow and promoted my independence. I wasn’t really sure if I had what it takes
to become a PI and I was really hesitant and he said you know give it a shot, you just
explore do what you love and he knew I loved science. He just inspired me and to work my best to
do my best to learn more, to work harder. He really brings a curiosity about life to
his science and his work. And he carries that spirit of openness to
finding new paths to solve problems. It’s hard to say what his most significant
contributions are because he’s not done yet. He’s still going.

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