The Next Scientific Frontier?

Shirley Tilghman is the nineteenth president of Princeton University, and is the first woman to hold the position. Tilghman served on the Princeton faculty for fifteen years before being named President. A native of Canada, Tilghman was educated at Queen's University and Temple University. She is a renowned molecular biologist, known particularly for her pioneering research in mammalian developmental genetics. She served as a member of the National Research Council's committee that set the blueprint for the U.S. effort in the Human Genome Project and was one of the founding members of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project Initiative for the National Institutes of Health.

In 2002, Tilghman was one of five winners of the L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science.  In the following year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology, and in 2007, she was awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions to her field.  Tilghman is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the Royal Society of London. She chairs the Association of American Universities and serves as a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, and as a director of Google Inc.

  • Transcript


I would have to say that my prediction for the next 20, 30, 40 years is that one of the most important and exciting fields is going to be in the area of euron science – understanding how the human brain works. It’s going to be important because we know so little about it, and because it’s going to be so important in understanding who we are and how we evolved the way we did. So I think euron science is an extraordinarily exciting field right now. In a field that is closer to my own, which is genomics, I think that too is a field that is really at the cusp of taking the information that we glean from sequencing the human genome and turning it into both understanding about how organisms work, like development, which I studied; but perhaps more importantly turning it into medical benefits for treating disease. The other area of science which I think is going to be enormously important for the next 50 years is going to be developing alternatives – realistic alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels. If we don’t do that, our future is really grim indeed. I think cancer research right now is at a very interesting place. If you think about what has happened over the last 25 years, it has largely been identifying the 100 to 200, maybe slightly more than that genes in the human genome that are involved one way or another in controlling growth. Because cancer is fundamentally a disease where growth is uncontrolled. The genes that are most important in understanding cancer are those growth control genes. And we’re getting close to what I think is probably a comprehensive list of those genes. The next step is identifying which genes are important in which kinds of cancer, and I think we’re making real progress there as well. Then comes the hard part, and the hard part is turning that knowledge into disease-specific cancer treatments. We have some early examples, success stories in this area. _________, which was developed for the treatment of breast cancer; _________, which was developed for the treatment of lymphoma. But I think there are going to be many, many more in the future. And what’s really exciting about those therapies is unlike those therapies that exist today, which are largely poisons – poisons that target dividing cells – these new therapies are very, very specific and target the cancer itself. And what that’s gonna mean is that those drugs are gonna be far more effective than the drugs we use today. And importantly, the quality of life of the patient is gonna be significantly better because you’re not killing off hundreds of other cells while you’re trying to kill the cancer cell. Recorded on: 8/7/07