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Oral history interview with Miguel C. Seabra

  • 2000-Sep-11 – 2000-Sep-13

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.

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