The Author



Dr. Joseph B. Martin’s life journey has taken him from humble beginnings as a Mennonite farm boy to the highest levels of academic and medical leadership. Along the way, he has led and witnessed many of the discoveries and events central to the turbulent transformation of medicine that began in the second half of the twentieth century.

Martin was born in 1938 in Bassano, Alberta, Canada and grew up near the village of Duchess. The first in his family to obtain an education beyond high school, he received a B.S. degree from Eastern Mennonite College (now Eastern Mennonite University). He went on to receive his M.D. at University of Alberta in 1962 and Ph.D. at the University of Rochester in 1971.

Martin’s first appointment as professor was at McGill University, where he then became Chair of the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery in 1977. He subsequently joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School and chaired the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. His group at MGH identified a DNA marker that led to the location of the gene for Huntington’s disease. In 1984, he was key to the establishment of the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

In 1989, Martin joined the University of California, San Francisco as Dean of the School of Medicine, following which he later became Chancellor. During his tenure at UCSF, he inaugurated the W.M. Keck Foundation Center for Integrative Neurosciences, dedicated to combining studies of the brain and behavior, and the Gladstone Institute for Virology and Immunology for the research into AIDS.

As Chancellor, Martin led the efforts to identify a second campus, which resulted in the establishment of the UCSF campus at Mission Bay. Appointed Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1997, Martin helped create the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, bringing together seven Harvard-affiliated institutions for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer. In 2001 he formed the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair, a decentralized community of over 500 neurology and neuroscience faculty and researchers working together to convert neuroscience understanding into treatment and prevention of a wide array of neurodegenerative diseases.

As Dean at Harvard, Martin led the efforts to re-design the entire medical school curriculum. In 2003, under Martin’s leadership the Harvard Medical School formed the Department of Systems Biology, one of the first department-level systems biology programs in the U.S. and the first new basic science department at the school in over 20 years. He stepped down as Dean in 2007 and continues to serve Harvard Medical School as the Dean Emeritus and the Edward R. and Anne G. Lefler Professor of Neurobiology.

Martin is the author or co-author of more than 300 scientific articles and reviews. He is a former editor of the widely used textbook Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine and has served on the editorial boards of the New England Journal of Medicine, Annals of Neurology, and Science. He is a member of multiple medical and scientific societies, including the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Martin chaired the Institute of Medicine’s committee that examined the feasibility of mapping of the human brain. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Association of Physicians and a member and past president of the American Neurological Association. Martin has received numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Abraham Flexner Award, which he received in 1999. Martin and his wife, Rachel (née Wenger) are parents of four children and grandparents of eight.

An autobiography that combines a deeply moving personal journey with insightful medical history…

Dr. Tim Johnson, Senior Medical Contributor,
ABC News

Martin at age nine, poses with his Grandma and Grandpa Ramer on the day of his baptism. His deep-seated Mennonite values guided him with humility and optimism through tumultuous changes in modern medicine.