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Vital Signs

Investigator Insight

In this section, we highlight the human side of biomedical investigation, putting a few questions to a researcher at DMS-DHMC.

Jose Conejo-Garcia, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and of Medicine

Conejo-Garcia studies the contribution of inflammatory cells to tumor vascularization and growth. He is particularly interested in vascular leukocytes, which have the capacity to form blood vessels in the ovarian cancer microenvironment.

How did you get into biomedical research?

I am curious by nature, but my career has been quite anarchic. I grew up in Spain and studied medicine there because I loved the physiological processes of the human body. But I never pictured myself replacing cardiac valves. Nevertheless, at medical school I learned a sense of responsibility against human suffering. After earning my M.D. and Ph.D. and doing residency and a fellowship in Spain, I did a fellowship in Switzerland. Then I got an offer from a pharmaceutical company in Germany.

Why did you return to academia?

I did not choose industry versus academe. I chose meritocracy versus family ties and fawning. American science is more successful than European science. There's a much bigger investment in it here (although the current administration keeps restricting it), and, more importantly, there's a sense of equality and decency that is not frequent among the old dinosaurs of European science. So I started over, worked for four years at the University of Pennsylvania, and came to DMS last year.

What do you ultimately want to discover?

The cure for cancer. But there are several thousands of people out there with the same goal.

What's your favorite nonwork activity?

I love running. In fact, I consider it part of my work and never make an important decision without thinking about it during a long run. I also maintain that there is no stress resistant to 20 miles of hard running.

What famous person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?

Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. This old soldier, mutilated, impoverished, and suffering an unfair imprisonment after a life of services to the state, found the courage to write from his cell the best possible book about idealism and confidence in human nature.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you like to be?

I always wanted to be a top mountaineer.

What is the greatest frustration in your work?

Working in science is precisely about frustration. The quintessence of disappointment is a scientist in front of a failed experiment. We work to have a rush of satisfaction here and there, but many experiments and hypotheses don't work.

And the greatest joy?

Finding a piece of information unknown until that moment is tremendously addictive.

If you could live in any time period, when would it be?

The present. I agree with whoever said that if you think old times were better, you don't know what tooth pain meant in the Middle Ages.

If you invented a time machine, where would you go?

To Southern Europe during the time when Homo sapiens and Neanderthals coexisted. But I would not go too far away from the machine.

What do you consider your most important work?

Our studies about the indispensable role of leukocytes in the formation of blood vessels. This is a very hot—and controversial—field right now, and we were lucky to publish our work when nobody believed in it. I am convinced that these cells will provide effective therapeutic targets for new cancer interventions.

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