As City of Hope celebrates its 100th anniversary, we offer a four-part interview with Art Riggs, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases Research. Many of City of Hope’s best-known breakthroughs came through his lab. In this series, he casts an eye back to some of his greatest scientific contributions — and forward to the advances on the horizon.
The science that led to synthetic human insulin began with Art Riggs’ curiosity about how to turn genes on and off. (Photo: Walter Urie)
In Part 2, Riggs talks about his work that led to synthetic human insulin. This medicine is now used by millions of diabetes patients all over the world to manage their disease.
In the late 1970s, you worked with City of Hope biologist Keiichi Itakura, Ph.D., and scientists at Genentech to coax E. coli, that familiar gut bacteria, to produce human hormones. One resulting drug, synthetic human insulin, certainly has had a huge impact on the treatment of diabetes. It can be considered as having launched the biotechnology industry, because it was the first product of biotechnology approved by the Food and Drug Administration. For a project that had such broad impact, what were the questions that started you down that path?
For me, it was questions about how genes are turned on and off. I was very interested in how genes are turned on and off in a very precise program: How can you program genes so they come on when they need to be on and they go off when they don’t need to be on? That’s the question I was interested in.
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