J. Michael Bishop

Bishop, J. Michael (1936-), an American cancer researcher, investigated oncogenes, or tumor-producing genes, turning over previously held theories about how cancer develops.

Bishop, along with a research team that included Harold Eliot Varmus, identified that normal genes (proto-oncogenes) can cause cancer once they've become modified. Genetic damage may transform these normal genes, or environmental factors such as toxic chemicals and radiation or viruses may trigger the change. For their findings regarding cancer-cell growth, Bishop and Varmus shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.


John Michael Bishop was born in York. Pennsylvania. In 1953, Bishop enrolled at Gettysburg College and four years later, received a chemistry degree. He then went on to Harvard Medical School but after two years, he interrupted his studies to spend a year working in the pathology department at Massachusetts General Hospital. It was during this time that Bishop became interested in molecular biology. When he returned to medical school, he was allowed to spend his senior year in the research laboratory. In 1962, he earned his doctorate degree and served his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Bishop spent three years at the National Institutes of Health as a postdoctoral fellow in a program designed to teach physicians the fundamentals of research. While there, he studied the replication of the virus that causes polio. In 1968, he joined the faculty at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and was appointed professor four years later. Before being named chancellor of UCSF in 1998, Bishop held the title of director of the G. W. Hooper Research Foundation of the University of California Medical Center.

Bishop and his wife, Kathryn lone Putnam, have two sons.