Charlotte Cunningham-Rundles, MD, PhD

I am not sure that I ever thought of immunology as a career. If you ask anyone what they think this might be, they are likely to ask if we go around with needles immunizing patients. In a way, that might be a bit correct. When I was in college, I liked biochemistry and biology more than anything. I went to medical school as that was logical and I assumed that these aspects of science would come into play.  But then I graduated and became an intern in internal medicine, where I assumed more focus on these things would come along. However, I had discussed with the Chief of Medicine at Bellevue NYU, before I became an intern, that I would like to pursue a PhD during part of residency, and he had agreed.   He may have been surprised that, in the middle of my first year of residency, I went again to his office to remind him that this was my plan. Again, he agreed, and suggested that I go to speak to the Dean of the Graduate school, and also faculty at NYU, to see if I could find a lab that would take me on as a student while still a second and then third year resident. The Dean was also agreeable, and even encouraging, so I took the Graduate Record Exam, got my German language credits from Duke validated, and took the German language qualifying exam.  I suppose I must have passed both and got into the NYU Graduate School.

While still a medical resident, I took Advanced Organic Chemistry at the Washington Square campus, which was fun but also very challenging. In the meantime, I was seeking a laboratory and went to talk to about five or six NYU faculty, including Drs. Ed Franklin and Michael Lamb. I also went to Rockefeller University, to speak with Drs, Henry Kunkle, Edward Ahrens,  Attallah Kappas, and Jules Hirsch working on immune studies, lipids, porphyria and obesity respectively. Aside from my conversation with Henry Kunkle, who was very pleasant but said that he did not mentor PhD students, I recall the conversation with Michael Lamb at NYU Medical Center the best. He was working on the biochemistry of IgA and how it gets secreted into biologic fluids; there was a mystery about how and why so much was made, and the structure of this molecule with the extra chains it needed for export. I was hooked.


But what to do for a living? Before the end of my PhD, I was luckily able to speak at one of the first Mucosal Immunology Meetings about my work on IgA, and met Dr Robert A Good, who had moved to NYC as the Director of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He ended up offering me a job as an Associate (Assistant Professor) when my PhD was finished, and I stumbled into this great experience of primary immune deficiency from this fortuitous beginning.