How I Became an Immunologist
What was your path to getting into Immunology?
I started to love immunology during my internal medicine rotation. I had this wonderful mentor named Francisco Barretto, who would talk about foreign concepts such as CD4 cells and molecular pathways. Up to that point I wanted to be a cardiac surgeon, but after this experience I never stopped thinking about immunology. I then decided to study abroad after completing my Internal Medicine Residency, and went on to take USMLE steps. Following that I had the fortune of being accepted for a fellowship by Dr. Thomas Fleisher, at the NIH, and the additional luck of having the chance to do my research project with Dr. Mike Lenardo, also at the NIH. This was really a transformative experience. I was so fascinated and challenged as I never thought I could be. Today I cannot imagine myself being anything else but an immunologist.
What do you think is important in immunology and/or medicine in the near future?
The specialty is growing in importance over the years, as the immunological and genetic basis of many disorders are being unraveled. Immunologists need to be fluent in basic mechanistic concepts, genetics, and also in diagnostic laboratory techniques, to properly handle the current influx of data. Training programs should adjust accordingly, to provide the necessary skills to our future colleagues. Lastly, I’d like to say that Immunology will dominate the world!
Do you have any inspiring patient stories you would like to share?
Patients are the real drivers of my research. It is very gratifying to go from a clinical diagnosis all the way to the discovery of a novel (or known) genetic defect. One recent case that was really touching was when we found the genetic cause of SCID in a child who died post-transplant. They are now planning to have a new baby through pre-implantation diagnosis, and we know we changed that family’s life.