Meet the Editors | Interview with Prof. Dr. James Trosko—Editor Board Member of the Section “Oncology” in Diseases

Thank you for accepting our interview invitation. We would like to interview you in two parts, mainly about your research and editorial work. We believe that your 50+ years of scientific experience can inspire young researchers and that your editorial experience will have a great impact on the development of science.

James Trosko

Part I — Regarding your research work:

1. Firstly, could you please introduce yourself?

I was born to my immigrant parents from Hungary in 1938. Sadly, I never had any scientific role models. I was never good at music, visual arts, poetry, or sports, nor did I have any creative gifts. My main childhood experiences were in nature. Because of my inspiring high school science teacher, together with the historic timing of things and the serendipity of meeting unique individuals, I was awarded a scholarship, a cutting-edge educational program, in the philosophy and history of science. Due to these factors, and with a lot of personal sacrifices, I became resolved to try to solve some of the current human problems.

2. What got you interested in scientific research in the first place?

I grew up in western Michigan, USA, where I had access to Lake Michigan, many small lakes, rivers, swamps, and forests. My father and my high school biology teacher nurtured my interests in nature, wildlife, mushroom hunting, fishing, and having fish as pets in an aquarium. I engaged with nature all year round—with plenty of snow in the winter for skating and ice fishing, the spawning of fish, migration of birds in the spring and fall, and the fun of being around and in water in the summer, creating the sense of an integrated cycle of life. While no one in my family has ever served as a role model when it came to education, this childhood experience and my motivation to study science and Latin in grade school and high school, where I did well, seemed to suggest that becoming educated at university would actually meet my emotional and intellectual needs. However, because my parents were extremely poor, I did not believe that I would be able to enter higher education. The concept of science as a profession had little concrete meaning to me at the time. I really had no idea what scientific discipline I would even choose or how one becomes educated in a discipline. So, my interest in science and needing to find a way to fund my education were conflicting issues. Furthermore, being admitted to the university and actually staying on the course would be another problem altogether. This was where my first encounter with historic timing and serendipity allowed me to start my scientific career. In brief, the “Sputnik” was being launched while I was in my first year at university. At the time, I was about to drop out because of a lack of funding.

3. Can you briefly describe your research or summarize it in keywords?

My keywords would include: DNA damage and repair; mutagenesis: stem cell hypothesis of cancer; epigenetic toxicology; modulation of cell–cell communication: isolation of human adult organ-specific stem cells; nutrition and diets in modulating human health and diseases; collision of biological and cultural evolution; in utero modulation of development to cause diseases later in life; and bioethics/global bioethics.

4. As a researcher in cancer, stem cells and epigenetic mechanisms, what valuable suggestions would you like to share with young scholars in terms of research topic selection?

It might seem presumptuous for me to suggest a protocol to study any topic. First, in one’s training to be a rigorous and ethical scientist, learning the disciplines, major tenets and values, as well as a bit of history/philosophy of science, is a must! One cannot be a world-famous violin virtuoso if one does not practice the basics. Moreover, this is especially true today, but we should not rely only on techniques to be the future of science. It is much more important to ask, “What are the big problems to be solved today?”. Remember, techniques come and go. One can rarely solve any major complex problem by oneself.

In essence, science is a passion. You must have that “fire in your belly”, because more often than not, your progress will not be a series of victories. As a TV sports announcer once stated during the Olympics: “It’s the agony and the ecstasy!”. Science is not a “job”. It is a way of looking at the world that holds mysteries but with a means to solve them. Only through hard work and creative imagination can you achieve an answer. I do not remember who said this, but it is true: “As human beings, all individuals possess creativity. Both the humanists/artists and scientists can make a leap of the imagination. However, the humanist/artist has no obligation to land on solid ground. However, all scientists have that obligation to hit solid ground after their leap!”.

5. What do you think are the most important characteristics of researchers? Do you have any suggestions for young researchers?

The search for “truth” is the primary goal of all scientists. Never venture into falsifying your results. Scientific truths, no matter how long it takes, will always rise to nullify falsehoods. Moreover, remember that, if you are challenged by your peers, you should not be so committed to your ideas that you feel like they are attacking you. Furthermore, never attack another’s ideas in a manner that impugns their integrity. As my late mentor, Dr. Potter, once said in his Presidential Address to the American Association of Cancer Researchers: “Humility with Responsibility: A Bioethic for Oncologists”.

Part II — Regarding your editorial work:

1. What attracted you to join the academic editor team of Diseases at MDPI?

While I am only on a few editorial boards of scientific journals, I have reviewed manuscripts from many scientific journals that deal with cancer, stem cell biology, toxicology, various human disease disciplines. My intellectual interests have always been in an integrated or “Rosetta Stone-like” view of disease causation. For that reason, the journal Diseases embodies my general philosophy to find a unifying mechanism linking all human diseases.

2. What do you think of the future of our journal Diseases?

As long as it maintains rigor in its reviewers, and papers seeking to find links between diseases are constantly published, it should be able to compete with more specialized journals.

3. What perspective do you think the section “Oncology” will bring to the related fields?

Because the general topic of oncology is dealt with by so many highly ranked scientific journals (PNAS; Science; Nature; Cell; Cancer Research; Carcinogenesis; Cancer Letters, etc.), it does have a good chance of competing with them for top-notch cancer researchers, unless its papers on oncology say something that these other journals do not accept.

4. How do you improve your academic writing ability?

Trial and error, plus showing my drafts to two kinds of personal reviewers prior to submitting a manuscript: Expert non-science English scholars; and my peers.