Tak W. Mak, Fig. 1, was one of the first scientists to work on apoptotic mechanisms, initially from an immunological perspective. This interest sprang from his early work, which was dedicated to understanding mechanisms of T-cell recognition and development. Indeed, his laboratory was the first to clone the gene encoding the beta chain of the human T-cell receptor (TCR) and among the first to define the function of the immune checkpoint regulator CTLA-4. For his discoveries, Dr. Mak has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA). He has also won many international prizes as well as received a dozen Honorary Doctoral degrees, including from the Karolinska Institute as well as from the Universities of Zurich, Göttingen, Hong Kong and Rome (Tor Vergata). His latest work ranges from defining novel connections between the nervous system and immune cells to exploiting properties unique to cancer cells in such a way as to kill them. Cell Death and Differentiation wondered: what in Dr Mak’s early work triggered his scientific interest in the fields of cell death and differentiation, and how did his efforts in these areas lead to his current success in the field of cancer therapy? CDD interviewed Dr Mak to ask these questions and shares his answers below.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Tak Wah Mak