K. Christopher Garcia

Born: December 8, 1962 | Washington, DC, US

K. Christopher Garcia grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, the youngest of three children. In high school, he was a tennis player but took an interest in science. After his first year at Tulane University, he took up rugby. In his sophomore year, he broke his neck while playing rugby, and his recovery from these injuries played a major role in Garcia rechanneling his academic efforts into scientific research. Garcia spent a year in Katherine Kennedy's pharmacology lab at George Washington University, where he worked on hypoxia in tumor cells. He went from there to Johns Hopkins University to work on lymphocyte adhesion receptors. He considers James Hildreth, who was a postdoc there at the time, to have been a very influential mentor in steering his interests into protein biochemistry. Garcia switched departments to biophysics and entered L. Mario Amzel's lab to focus on the structures of antibodies. As part of his thesis, he spent some months in Stephen Desiderio's lab to clone and sequence antibodies. These experiences, together with reading a paper from Mark Davis at Stanford on the cloning of the T cell receptor, led Garcia to take on the challenge of determining the TCR structure and how it sees its ligands. Garcia took his interest in receptors to a postdoc at Genentech, where he worked with David Goeddel, Tony Kossiakoff, and Jim Wells to learn aspects of recombinant protein expression and protein engineering. After two years he accepted another postdoc at Scripps Research Institute, working in Ian Wilson's lab. During his stay at Scripps he and his colleagues published a landmark paper on the first TCR and TCR/MHC structure in Science. Shortly following that work, he accepted an assistant professorship at Stanford University.

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0654
No. of pages: 63
Minutes: 173

Interview Sessions

David J. Caruso
1 December 2008
Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

Abstract of Interview

K. Christopher Garcia grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, the youngest of three children. His Spanish father was an anesthesiologist and his American mother an artist and housewife. Garcia always liked science, especially animals, and collected reptiles as pets. He attended an Episcopal school at first, but then went to a good public high school. There he began to get more serious about his studies and took an interest in science. He was also a very competitive junior tennis player and that was a major aspect of his life. Garcia felt he had little guidance in choosing a college, but he wanted one with good science and a good tennis team; he chose Tulane University. After his first year there, he abandoned his goal of succeeding in a Division I college tennis team, and so quit the team and took up rugby. While always doing well in school without pushing himself, he had never been especially studious until he broke his neck while playing rugby in his sophomore year; during his recovery he became very serious about excelling academically. In addition, a complicating blood clot made him aware of the importance of physical fitness. Already planning to major in biochemistry, as it was both interesting and challenging, Garcia found a physical chemistry class taught by Eugene Hamori inspirational. Hamori was a world-class fencer from Hungary, which only added to his inspiring qualities. Garcia next spent a year in Katherine Kennedy's pharmacology lab at George Washington University, where he worked on hypoxia in tumor cells. He went from there to Johns Hopkins University to work on lymphocyte adhesion receptors. He considers James Hildreth, who was a postdoc there at the time, to have been a very influential mentor in steering his interests into protein biochemistry. After taking Cecil Robinson's bio-organic chemistry class Garcia switched departments to biophysics and entered L. Mario Amzel's lab to focus on the structures of antibodies. As part of his thesis, he spent some months in Stephen Desiderio's lab to clone and sequence antibodies. These experiences, together with reading a paper from Mark Davis at Stanford on the cloning of the T cell receptor, led Garcia to take on the challenge of determining the TCR structure and how it sees its ligands. When he had finished his PhD, Garcia took his interest in receptors to a postdoc at Genentech, where he worked with David Goeddel, Tony Kossiakoff, and Jim Wells to learn aspects of recombinant protein expression and protein engineerin. He found Genentech's scientists very impressive, the organization and structure both academic and businesslike. After two years he accepted another postdoc at Scripps Research Institute, working in Ian Wilson's lab, because he felt that solving the structure of the TCR was a 'holy grail' for the field, and would require a great deal of financial and infrastructural support, which Ian Wilson provided. During his stay at Scripps he and his colleagues published a landmark paper on the first TCR and TCR/MHC structure in Science. Shortly following that work, he accepted an assistant professorship at Stanford University. At the end of the interview Garcia discusses his lab setup and his lab's work on cytokines through gp130. He continues with a description of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award and their annual meetings; and finishes by explaining how he obtained his Howard Hughes Medical Investigator award and how he has been using the two awards.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1985 Tulane University BS Biochemistry
1992 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine PhD Biophysics

Professional Experience

Genentech, Inc.

1992 to 1994
Postdoctorate, Molecular Biology

Scripps Research Institute

1994 to 1998
Postdoctorate, Molecular Biology
1998 to 1999
Assistant Member, Molecular Biology

Stanford University School of Medicine

1999
Assistant Professor, M & I and Structural Biology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1992 to 2002

Rita Allen Foundation Starter Scholar Award

2000 to 2002

March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Junior Scholar Award

2000 to 2004

Cancer Research Institute New Investigator Award

2001 to 2005

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

2005

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Childhood in Falls Church, Virginia. Sports. Interest inscience. Love of animals, especially reptiles. Schools. Travelling with familyin Middle East, Mexico, and Europe. Religion. Love of the banjo and bluegrassmusic

College Years
9

Lack of guidance in choosing college. Wanted school with good tennis team andgood academics. Wanted to become scientist, but not doctor. Matriculated intoTulane University. Quitting tennis team and substituting rugby. Breaking neck. Blood clot in leg. Becoming serious about studies and conscientious aboutphysical fitness. Chose biochemistry as most interesting and most difficultmajor. Inspirational physical chemistry class with Eugene Hamori. Summer atLombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University.

Graduate School Years
17

Spent year after graduation in Katherine Kennedy's pharmacology lab at GeorgeWashington University. Worked on hypoxia in tumor cells. Applied to bestpharmacology schools, accepted at Johns Hopkins University. Entered ThomasAugust's lab, working on lymphocyte adhesion receptors. James Hildreth asmentor. Cecil Robinson's bio-organic class. Working on protein structure andimmune system in Robinson's lab. Moving into L. Mario Amzel's lab. Cloningand sequencing antibodies in Stephen Desiderio's lab. Running and tennis.

Postgraduate Years
31

Two years at Genentech. Interest in T cell receptors. Baculovirus. DavidGoeddel, Tony Kossiakoffand James Wells as mentors. Second postdoc at Scripps ResearchInstitute in Per Peterson's lab. Competition, especially with Don Wiley's lab, inC-alpha domain. Becomes assistant professor.

Faculty Years
40

Accepts assistant professorship at Stanford University. Work on cytokinereceptors through gp130. Renewed interest in autoimmunity. Lab setup andmanagement. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award. Howard Hughes Medical Investigator award. Administrative duties, writing,teaching. Thoughts about selecting scientists.

Index
53

About the Interviewer

David J. Caruso

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.  His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.