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Institute Professor David Baltimore, one of the world's leading scientists and winner of the Nobel Prize for his work in virology, received a warm sendoff on September 16, when he gave his last MIT lecture before leaving to assume the presidency of the California Institute of Technology.
Before the talk on "Cell Life and Cell Death," Professor Phillip A. Sharp, a fellow Nobelist and head of the Department of Biology, joked about the possibility of Professor Baltimore returning to MIT, because he has a history of doing so.
"David has left MIT four times already, and that record might suggestï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½" Professor Sharp said to laughter from the standing-room-only crowd in Rm 10-250.
Professor Baltimore first left MIT during his graduate studies. He went to Rockefeller University, where he earned his doctorate, and then returned to the Institute for postdoctorate work. He was a research associate at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA, from 1965-68. He was named a full professor at MIT in 1972 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1975 at the age of 37.
In 1990, Professor Baltimore left MIT a third time to be president of Rockefeller University. He once again returned to MIT in 1994, where he has been the Ivan R. Cottrell Professor of Molecular Biology and Immunology and the American Cancer Society Research Professor. He was named Institute Professor in 1995.
Last May, Professor Baltimore was named president of Caltech, a post he is assuming this fall.
"I will certainly miss MIT. I've been in and out for 38 years," Professor Baltimore said. "I've always thought of MIT as my home."
Professor Baltimore was founding director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where he worked from 1982-90. Colleagues see him as one of the most influential living biologists. He was a major player in the creation of a national science policy consensus on recombinant DNA research, and is chairman of the advisory committee charged by the NIH with developing an AIDS vaccine.
During his final MIT lecture, Professor Baltimore discussed NFkB, a regulator in the cytoplasm, and its role in preventing cell death.
He also discussed plateaus in HIV concentrations. In the first six weeks after infection, the HIV level first rises and then falls and settles into a plateau, he explained. The lower the plateau, the longer it will take before the patient comes down with AIDS.
"The best thing a vaccine could do is bring the high plateaus down to low plateaus and keep people alive longer," Professor Baltimore said.
Professor Baltimore said he will retain his laboratory at MIT for another year and keep a small lab at Caltech.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 24, 1997.