Oral history interview with Eric G. Pamer

  • 2000-Jul-24 – 2000-Jul-26

Eric G. Pamer was born in Los Angeles, California, where he spent his first several years. His father, who came from Austria, was an engineer with Cleveland Crane; he was transferred to Luxembourg to open a company branch, and the family stayed there for five or six years. Then they returned to Cleveland, Ohio, where Pamer senior became president of Cleveland Crane. Eric's mother had come from Russia and ended up in Los Angeles, where she met and married Eric's father. Eric has a younger sister as well, who has ended up living in Hamburg, Germany. Eric started first grade in Luxembourg in an international school; Eric's classes were in German, but he also studied French, and the family spoke English at home. Just before sixth grade the Pamers returned to Cleveland. Junior high school did not have good teachers or classes and was, in fact, dangerous. High school was better; there Eric had John Hurst as a biology teacher as well as cross-country and track coach. Eric had always liked nature and ecology, and he became very interested in biology. He loved collecting and cataloguing; eventually he studied daphnia as his senior project. He also loved to take long bike rides. Eric completed his BA in biology at Case Western Reserve University, initially studying hydra in Georgia Lesh's lab and working summers at the Cleveland Clinic. Deciding he wanted to go to medical school, he became a good student and finished in three years. He worked on hydra in Georgia Lesh's lab and worked summers at the Cleveland Clinic. He spent a month in Europe, liking it so much he worked as a technician for a year to earn money to travel around the world. He applied to Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and, granted deferment, he spent a year traveling around the world. When he entered medical school he began in Abdel Mahmoud's lab, working on immune defense against schistosomiasis. During his fourth year he spent three months working in a Kenyan hospital. His surgery internship was at University of California at San Diego; he switched to medicine, first as an intern, then as a resident, and finally as chief resident. During this time he met and married his wife, Wendy, and they began their family. Next came three fellowship years in Charles Davis' lab at UCSD. During his first year Pamer worked on African sleeping sickness. He became interested in the study of infectious disease and immunology. He moved his cysteine protease research to Magdalene So's lab at Scripps Research Institute when Davis' lab became too small. From there he and his family moved to Seattle so that he could work on immunity in Listeria in Michael Bevan's lab. After two years and a strong paper, Pamer was offered an assistant professorship at Yale University; he has been there since. He is, however, about to move to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he wants to build up the infectious disease service. His own work continues to be the study of the interface between the immune system and microbes. His lab has mice whose response to Listeria has been to build immunity rapidly and completely; Pamer wants to study how to use that response in humans to protect such diseases as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV. Pamer has had a number of grants and published many papers. He teaches; he has some administrative duties; he manages his medium-sized lab; he is attending physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital two months each year; he continues to publish; he is preparing to move himself and his lab to New York City. Most important, he attempts to balance all this with his life with his wife and two children. If he could not be a scientist he would travel and write books about his experiences.

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