Q&A: Nobel Laureate Tom Südhof on music, politics and medicine

In 2010, Dr. Südhof talked to The Lancet about his greatest passions – in science and beyond

This week, Thomas C. Südhof was jointly awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology with James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman "for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells."

[caption align="alignright"]Tom SudhofTom Südhof, PhD[/caption]

Dr. Südhof directs a laboratory at the Stanford University School of Medicine, studying how synapses function, and how they become dysfunctional in disorders such as autism and Parkinson's disease. He grew up in Germany and spent 25 years at University of Texas Southwestern, where he became chair of the Department of Neuroscience, before moving to Stanford in 2008. He was awarded the 2010 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience.

Dr. Südhof is well-known to Elsevier, having published in the Cell Press journals Cell and Neuron. He was also a contributing author for Methods in Enzymology, Handbook of Cell Signaling, Parkinson's Disease, and Progress in Brain Research and Methods in Neurosciences.

In 2010, The Lancet published this interview with Dr. Südhof, which we are reprinting with their permission.

What has been the greatest achievement of your career?

Elucidating how calcium induces neurotransmitter release at a synapse.

What is the most over-hyped field of medicine?

Translational medicine: the notion of immediate translation of research into cures, the idea that we can jump over real biology to cure diseases with stem cells or drugs, without actually understanding the diseases themselves.

And the most neglected?

No field, but an approach: "solid descriptive science", like neuroanatomy or biochemistry, disciplines that cannot claim to immediately understand functions or provide cures, but which form the basis for everything we do.

Who is your favourite politician and why?

Jimmy Carter — despite failing to navigate the treacherous US political environment, he is the only US politician I am aware of in the past 50 years who sincerely cares for human rights and human freedom and does not use empty words.

What apart from your family is the passion of your life?

I always try to understand everything I encounter—not only in science, but also historical and political events and music and movies—get to grips with the content, meaning, and process. This is immense fun, as strange as that may sound.

Who was your most influential teacher, and why?

My bassoon teacher, Herbert Tauscher, who taught me that the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours.

How do you relax?

Drink wine and talk to the people I love.

What is your favourite book, and why?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, because it is a microcosm of the world and Goethe's beautiful language expresses all of our potential and contradictions.

What are you currently reading?

My 1-year-old daughter's picture books, when I have time.

What items do you always carry with you?

A pen, a book of poetry, and ear plugs.

You can have dinner tonight with a famous person — who would it be?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, so that I could try and find out if his creativity was conscious or inherent.

This article originally appeared in The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9739, Page 409, 7 August 2010. Cite or Link Using DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61210-X

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