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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / October 2018 / A Career Filled with Opportunity, Therapeutics, and Music!

A Career Filled with Opportunity, Therapeutics, and Music!

Career Story by Gerhard Bauer, PhD, Professor of Hematology and Oncology, and Director of The GMP Laboratory at UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures

I was born and grew up in Austria, in a small town about 100 kilometers west of Vienna. At age 6 already I started to learn the classical piano, and I remember being featured as a “Kid Star” pianist at age 7. I continued to study the piano for another 8 years, but when my piano teacher wanted me to switch to atonal music and would not let me play the jazz and popular music of the 1920s and 1930s, I quit and never really touched the instrument again. And to be fair, there was no real way of studying jazz and syncopated dance music in Austria; it’s the land of classical music.

I soon moved to Vienna where I attended college and medical school; however, the artistic bug never really let go of me so I attended acting school at the same time. I received training from teachers of the Max Reinhardt Seminary and the Lee Strasberg Acting School of New York. I never really wanted to be a physician treating patients, but I had a good amount of talent in the laboratory (discovered in medical school) so I managed to get a job at the Austrian FDA where I was responsible for the safety of blood products, and their release as routine medical products after appropriate testing. There I learned all of the laboratory skills and techniques from scratch and passed all my government required proficiency tests with flying colors, which still qualifies me as a medical technologist, I believe.

At that time, a disease called GRID (later AIDS) swept the world. Many of my young friends in the acting / musician community suddenly became ill and within a year or two, died. This was utterly devastating to me; the disease at that time also wiped out a huge number of artistic people producing stage plays and movies, world-wide. Luckily, the first test kits for HIV had also come to market, and I found myself now being put in charge of their release in Austria. After seeing the tragedy that HIV and AIDS had caused in my community, I decided that it was only fitting, with my medical and laboratory background, I take up the search for a cure of the disease. I looked for a place where I could do that, and interestingly found a job at the University of Maryland at Baltimore where I ran their HIV research laboratory.  After having found why only certain HIV infected mothers transmit HIV to their offspring, I was asked to join an HIV research team at the Johns Hopkins University, where I started with the development of stem cell gene therapy for HIV in 1992. I thought stem cell gene therapy would be the only real way of curing HIV by replacing a patient’s immune system with one that was resistant to HIV.

In 1995, I was given the opportunity to move to Los Angeles, being offered a position at the University of Southern California, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), in Don Kohn’s lab, the best gene therapy lab in the country. There I continued to develop stem cell gene therapy for HIV. I manufactured clinical grade gene therapy products for four clinical trials of stem cell gene therapy for HIV. One trial was the first in the world to treat a child with stem cell gene therapy for HIV, based on the development of safe and efficacious clinical grade stem cell gene therapy transduction and cell culturing procedures. These same procedures are still being used today. Parallel to the HIV clinical trials, we also conducted clinical trials of stem cell gene therapy for the "Bubble Boy Disease" (aka deficient SCID). It was also at CHLA where I started the development, design and implementation of academic Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facilities for cellular and gene therapies.

In 2002, it was time to move on and create my own lab. I was recruited to Washington University in St. Louis to build and direct a new GMP facility and center for cellular and gene therapy. The GMP facility there was soon to be named among the best in the United States and attracted many visitors from the US and abroad. In 2006, I was recruited back to California, to UC Davis, to be part of the new Stem Cell Program, which was backed by a California stem cell proposition (newly voted in) and was administered by a new state stem cell funding agency called the “California Institute for Regenerative Medicine” (CIRM).  At UC Davis, I designed and still direct a state-of-the-art GMP facility, which opened in February of 2010, again being among the best in the United States. It went through FDA review and sign-off, and also received excellent reviews in the major facilities grant application to CIRM. The institute awarded 20 million dollars to our university to build the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures, of which the GMP facility is an integral part. This state-of-the-art setup at UC Davis allows moving laboratory research that applies cellular and gene therapies into clinical applications, and is therefore vital for the development of cures and treatments for a multitude of currently incurable diseases.

Now you wonder if I had left the arts behind completely after all this commotion I caused in the science field?  No, not at all. Since my arrival at UC Davis in 2006 to the present, twice a year, I have been teaching an undergraduate college course called “The History of the Motion Pictures”, which is so popular that it is always full way before the end of the registration period. The students are treated to a movie show on real 35mm film in my private movie screening room, where they can experience something that cannot be seen in commercial movie theaters, which rely on digital projection. And how about the music? Well, I switched instruments and now play the music I love. I am a traditional Jazz and syncopated dance music drummer in my traditional jazz combo “Phonotone Bijou”. I also conduct an 18-piece dance orchestra called “Symphonia Phonotone”, which plays the original dance music arrangements of the 1920s and 1930s. Interested in hearing how we sound? I invite you to listen to: “Tap Your Feet”. I also invite you to hear more about the work being done at UC Davis and our GMP facility on September 5th at 9:00 am in the Louise Slaughter Conference Room (1-9555). I hear there will be breakfast and maybe jazz!

Tracey Baas | 8/24/2018

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