Q: What attracted you to the field of autophagy?
I think autophagy is a biologically interesting process only beginning to be explored in mammals, the dysfunction of which is directly relevant to human disease. Autophagy enables cells to degrade and recycle intracellular proteins and organelles thereby providing substrates for metabolic pathways, and how this sustains systemic mammalian metabolism is very interesting.
Q: What do you consider to be the most exciting recent discovery in autophagy?
The most recent exciting discovery is that autophagy can suppress inflammation by eliminating triggers of the innate immune response, thereby facilitating tumor escape from immune surveillance. As immunotherapies are new powerful tools to eradicate cancer, finding new ways to activate the antitumor immune response, such as by inhibiting autophagy, is exciting.
Q: What is the career achievemen
t you are most proud of?
Contributing to our understanding of cancer survival mechanisms and the means to target them for cancer therapy.
Q: What advice would you give to young women in science?
I get asked by young investigators, students, and postdocs, particularly women, how to be a successful scientist. These are “Eileen’s Rules” that came about from my experiences as a scientist, wife, and mother.
1. Work on something you are passionate about. Being a scientist is challenging, so there will be sacrifices. Passion will give you the drive to keep your momentum, and it is contagious and will have a dramatic positive influence on your mentees. 2. Select a research problem with the potential for significant impact. It is easier to get excited if the outcome of your work will reduce human suffering or save the planet. 3. Follow the science. Go where the science takes you, even if it is beyond your comfort zone, to broaden your knowledge base. 4. Focus, focus, focus. Don’t spread yourself too thin, failing to bring your work to a timely conclusion. Balance resources with goals, or you will do too little too late. 5. Take risks, but calculated risks. Science is an adventure, so treat it as such. 6. Develop or embrace the latest technologies. 7. Be a team builder and take a team science approach where it makes sense. 8. Speak up. You are talented and smart, so let your voice be heard. Even if you are off base occasionally, no one will remember. 9. Seek out mentors and collaborators and cultivate mentees. 10. Promote and be a mentor to other women. 11. Lead by example. 12. Engage your family. You are a role model, and they can share in your accomplishments and support you during tough times.
Eileen White is a cancer biologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
She was born and grew up on Long Island, New York, and received a B. S. degree in biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Ph. D. degree in Biology from SUNY Stony Brook. She was a Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellow and Staff Investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, then moved to Rutgers University where she contributed to the establishment of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. She is currently the Deputy Director, Chief Scientific Officer, and Associate Director of Basic Research at the Rutgers Cancer Institute, Associate Director of the Ludwig Princeton Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at Princeton University, and Board of Governors Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences. In addition to being elected to the National Academy of Sciences, she is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology.