Humanizing Research

As a boy growing up in rural Mexico, J. Victor Garcia, Ph.D., sold fruit from his family’s orchard to purchase a chemistry set.

“What started as a game of discovery as a child with a chemistry set has resulted in a lifetime of fulfillment and dedication to science,” Garcia said.

Garcia began work on HIV research at his first faculty appointment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and then at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. His dedication to his work often involves taking risks.

At one time, his lab’s work on gene therapy for AIDS lacked a suitable in vivo model; the model needed human T cells, the targets of HIV infections. A student in his lab presented an idea for a model that would express human T cells, but other experts in the field dismissed it because previous studies in similar models had failed. Garcia advised this student to try his model anyway.

“Many so-called truths have changed, been proven wrong, further developed or amended,” Victor says. “New discoveries are made because someone does not accept something as an incontrovertible truth.”

The student went on to develop a humanized bone marrow/liver/thymus (BLT) mouse model — an innovative model with a functioning human immune system, complete with T cells, allowing for major advancements in the field of HIV prevention, treatment, vaccine and cure research.

“The current infrastructure for research funding is adverse to risk. As scientists, to do transformative research, we have to go into the unknown and take risks. Most landmark discoveries have not been originally well received by funding agencies,” Garcia said. “It is deeply rewarding to continuously ask questions for which there are no known answers. I look toward the future with the hope that together we will find a cure for HIV/AIDS.”