I was born in the small town of Saint-Avold in northeast France. When I was a teenager, my younger sister developed a brain tumor. Unfortunately, not only was the diagnosis delayed because of the lack of good imaging technology, but the few available treatments were mostly ineffective and had several toxic side effects. While spending a lot of time in the hospital, I witnessed much suffering, and it became clear to me, even at my young age, that robust treatment options were needed and could only be realized through the transformative power of research. I decided then to apply my natural inclination toward mathematics and the biological sciences to developing a career treating patients with malignancies, particularly children. I followed this pursuit of medicine and science and completed my medical degree at the University of Strasbourg and my residency and fellowship in pediatric hematology and oncology in Paris.
In 2000, I emigrated to the United States on a J-1 visa to pursue research in the emerging cancer vaccine field and completed my PhD in immunology through a collaboration between the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research and University of Paris VII. This fruitful research environment made me almost reconsider my planned return to France to work as a clinic director at the University and Hospitals of Nancy (the equivalent of a tenure-track physician-scientist assistant professor position). I was pleased to again care for patients receiving hematopoietic cell transplantation, the most effective form of immunotherapy before the advent of T cell therapies. However, I soon missed the academic freedom and outstanding scientific environment that I found in the US and decided to pursue a second postdoctoral fellowship, which was followed by a tenure-track faculty position, at the University of Michigan in collaboration with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center focusing on the discovery and validation of biomarkers of graft-versus-host disease and graft-versus-leukemia (toxic and beneficial responses to treatment, respectively).
I was then recruited by the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2012, and after eight years, I moved to the Medical University of South Carolina, where I am currently chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and coleader of the Cancer Immunology Program at the Hollings Cancer Center. My research on biomarkers and T cells (immune cells that guard against infections and cancers) has been translated into clinical trials affecting the treatment of patients receiving hematopoietic cell transplantation for leukemia. This research holds promise for the development of novel immunotherapies and represents my scientific noneconomic contributions. Importantly, my lab has relied on the talent of many foreign-born and US-born trainees, and their teamwork has generated more than 50 positions as well as large grants, bringing increased resources to my respective US institutions.
Immigrants leading biomedical research
I believe innovative progress depends on the degree of our collective differences. Immigrants bring...