Wednesday, February 4, 2009

“The world is ours””

This is an interview with Dr. Paco Real, who used to be at the IMIM-Hospital del Mar. This interview appeared in the second issue of El·lipse, which by now you must already know is the PRBB's monthly newspaper.


Dr. Real was born in Barcelona, he studied medicine at the UAB in Bellaterra and worked at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York for 7 years. From there he moved back to Barcelona, nearly 20 years ago, to coordinate what today is the Research Unit in Cell and Molecular Biology at IMIM. He studies the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic and bladder cancer, he is a professor at UPF and the father of an 8-year old girl, and he loves music and reading.

How did you end up doing research?

When I was 12 I had a neighbour on the third floor who was an immunologist. He used to talk about “-bulines” and I always wondered what the first nine letters, “immunoglo“, which I could never hear properly, meant… When I discovered it, I studied medicine at the UAB in order to do research in immunology. Later, while receiving lessons at the Hospital de Sant Pau, I met two excellent doctors who made me become also interested in clinical medicine. Actually, I was very fortunate in having two real mentors, one in the hospital (César Díaz) and one in the lab (José Luis Rodríguez); most people have none. They both offered me their time and knowledge, and I will never forget that…

Then you left to New York...
Here it was very difficult to do research and practise medicine at the same time, so I rejected my resident medical post and I left to the US. There I was doing my PhD in cancer immunology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital, and at the same time I could undertake clinical activity.

You came back to Barcelona to join the IMIM in 1988 – why?
Because I did not want to spend all my life thinking that perhaps one day I should come back home. I was still young, and I decided to give myself 4 years to see if I could make things work out for me here. On January 6, 1992, exactly four years later, I started adding and substracting, and the final result was positive; and so here I am.

How was coming back?
They were very interesting years. IMIM had existed for years, but it had stopped working for years, too! We had to do several reorganizations and we got great help from both the people who were already at IMIM and the new arrivals. The situation has now changed a lot; the PRBB was something completely unimaginable back then. On the ‘Three Kings’s day’ in which I arrived back to Barcelona I could have never thought of asking for such a present!

But you stopped practising medicine?
At the beginning I did some work at the Hospital del Mar, but I don’t anymore. But every time I see a doctor talking to a patient I am very jealous. And my research is completely conditioned by my medical education. When I do research, I think of diseases, not molecules.

And you have also stopped doing bench work…
When I am here that’s the case, yes, the group has grown a lot and it requires lots of time. To do some experiments, I have left on a sabbatical a couple of times, to France and to the US. It’s a humility lesson that every scientist should do; you see how experiments don’t work out and then you understand your poor PhD students.

What is the best and the worst of being a scientist?
The best, that you are free and have no limits. The worst… that you are the limit! But then you can always collaborate.

What would you be if you were not a scientist?

I can see myself doing many different things, but I think I would like to be a bookseller of the type that don’t exist anymore, those that read a lot of books and discuss them with their customers…

Which has been the best moment of your scientific life?
It hasn’t arrived yet (I hope!); it’s always tomorrow.

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