Miguel C. Seabra

Born: June 1, 1962 | Lisbon, PT

Miguel C. Seabra grew up in Lisbon, Portugal. His father had a great influence on his decision to enter medical school, where he worked under Fernanda Mesquita. Soon after, he was accepted into the doctoral program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He had trouble with lectures in English and suffered quite a bit of culture shock and homesickness at first. In Joseph Goldstein's lab, he continued his research on cell cholesterol metabolism, helped purify the geranylgeranyltransferase enzyme, and published a paper in Cell. Eventually, Seabra moved to the Imperial College School of Medicine in London. He compares scientific collaboration in the US and England, explains his research on prenylation of Rab proteins, and talks about the support he has received to cure choroideremia.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0530
No. of pages: 139
Minutes: 550

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
11-13 September 2000

Abstract of Interview

Miguel C. Seabra grew up in Lisbon, Portugal, one of three sons; his father was an ophthalmologist and his mother a kindergarten teacher. Seabra liked school and did well when school was in session. Political upheaval in Lisbon caused chaos in his school in his fifth-grade year, and Seabra's uncle, who had been a minister in a previous administration, was arrested. His academic interests in high school were in science and mathematics. Seabra's parents had expectations for their children and their careers, and his father had a great influence on his decision to enter medical school. While at medical school he worked under Fernanda Mesquita and had an internship in Turin, Italy. During his travels under the aegis of the Children's International Summer Villages he met the woman who became his wife, Isabel Fernandes Pinto. Soon after, he made the decision to seek a PhD outside of Portugal and was accepted into the doctoral program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. His family was resistant to his moving to the United States; he had trouble, at first, with lectures in English; and he and his wife suffered quite a bit of culture shock and homesickness for a little while. Seabra was directed by Scott Grundy to Joseph Goldstein's lab, where he continued his research on cell cholesterol metabolism with Michael Briggs and Yuval Reiss and helped purify the geranylgeranyltransferase enzyme, though he chose not to write his PhD thesis on geranylgeranylation; during his graduate work Seabra published a paper on Rab escort proteins in Cell. Ultimately he transitioned to a postdoc and principal investigator position at University of Texas Southwestern, working hard to overcome challenges when setting up his own lab. After spending some time in his faculty position, Seabra decided to pursue his science abroad, moving to the Imperial College School of Medicine in London, England, for reasons that included funding growth in England, especially by the Wellcome Foundation; his wife's profession; and the language and culture. Core to his growth and development in the United States, however, was his receipt of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award, a topic that he talked about at length in the interview. The interview concluded with Seabra's discussion of a typical workday, a workday that has made balancing family and career a challenge. He has had little time for working at the bench, much less for leisure activities. Experiencing firsthand the extreme competitiveness that exists in the global scientific community affected his beliefs and practices about science. The interview ends with Seabra's opinions about ethics in science; the inevitability of scientific progress; and the impact of fashionable trends on the publication of scientific articles. He compares scientific collaboration in the United States and England, and explains his current research on prenylation of Rab proteins and possible applications of his research. He talks about the support he has received to cure choroideremia, and finishes with an elaboration of his personal and professional goals, an assessment of his achievements, and final thoughts on foregoing a possible Howard Hughes Medical Institute award.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1986 New University of Lisbon Medical School MD
1992 University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas PhD Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

New University of Lisbon Medical School

1985 to 1988
Teaching Assistant, Department of Biochemistry

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas

1988 to 1992
Student Research and Teaching Assistant, Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
1992 to 1993
Research Fellow, Department of Molecular Genetics
1993 to 1994
Instructor, Department of Molecular Genetics
1994 to 1997
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics

Imperial College School of Medicine

1997 to 1999
Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor), Molecular Genetics, Division of Biomedical Sciences
1999 to 2001
Professor and Department Head

Honors

Year(s) Award
1986 to 1988

Young Investigator Fellowship, National Institute for Scientific Research, Portugal

1988 to 1993

Fulbright Program Scholar

1995 to 1999

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Childhood Life in Lisbon
1

Family background. Relationship with his siblings. Early schooling. Impact of political upheaval in Lisbon on schooling and family. Political coup. Experiences of high school.

Medical School and Undertaking a Ph.D.
12

High school. Dating and relationships. Academic interests in high school. Enters medical school. Parental expectations. Extracurricular activities. Religion. Medical school experiences. Work under Fernanda Mesquita. Internship in Turin, Italy. Travels under the aegis of the Children's International Summer Villages. Meets wife, Isabel Fernandes Pinto Seabra. Decision to seek a PhD outside of Portugal. Enters the doctoral program at University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Resistance in his family to his move to the United States.

Moving to the United States and then England
39

Struggle with the English language. Culture shock. Scott M. Grundy. Joseph L. Goldstein. Research on cell cholesterol metabolism with Michael Briggs and Yuval Reiss. Helps purify the geranylgeranyltransferase enzyme. Reasons for not writing his PhD on geranylgeranylation. Publishes a Cell paper on Rab escort proteins. Transition to a postdoc and principal investigator position at University of Texas Southwestern at Dallas. Setting up his own lab. Decision to move to London. Compares administrative duties in the United States with those in England. Funding sources. Teaching responsibilities. Teaching philosophy. Integrated curriculum at Imperial College School of Medicine.

Comparing Science in the United States and England
88

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award. Restrictions on the use of specific grants and funds. Compares the grant review process in the United States and in England. Responsibilities in the Goldstein lab. Writing journal Articles. Lab management. Balancing family and career. Typical workday. Leisure activities. Lack of time at the bench. Being scooped. Trends and the publication of scientific articles. Nature of scientific collaboration in the United States and in Britain.

Current Research
115

Serendipity in scientific discovery. Nature and direction of scientific progress. Current research on prenylation of Rab proteins. Possible applications of research. Basic training for new biomedical students. Curing choroideremia. Being a scientist. Passing up a possible Howard Hughes Medical Institute award.

Index
140

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen