4/20/2014

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Health

Meet OHSU's next star researcher

Meet OHSU's next star researcher
Dr. Louis Picker is associate director of the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. Photo courtesy of Oregon Health & Science University.
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PORTLAND, Ore. - Dr. Louis Picker isn’t exactly a household name. But the Oregon Health & Science University researcher may become one if his promising AIDS research works out as hoped and leads to a vaccine for humans.

Picker has given more than a dozen interviews in the past 24 hours to media outlets around the globe on his research into a vaccine that appears to eradicate HIV from the body of monkeys. It’s the first time a vaccine candidate has cleared the virus from the body, and it could eventually lead to a vaccine for humans.

BBC Radio did two spots on Picker’s research last night, and he’s fielded calls and emails from media outlets from as far away as Brazil and Australia. It’s all been a bit of a blur.

“I haven’t been keeping track clearly,” Picker said on his way to an interview at a Portland TV station.

This is the second time a media storm has swirled around Picker. Two years ago, he was at the center of a similar flurry of interest when he published another research paper on the same vaccine research.

“It’s amazing how some papers catch the lay person and others don’t,” Picker said. “Anything that has to do with AIDS has resonance.”

In 2011, he was live on Al Jazeera television, but they didn’t call this time around.

“I’m competing with Syria and everything else,” Picker joked.

Picker isn’t the first OHSU researcher to gain international celebrity. Dr. Brian Druker is as close to a superstar as a scientist can get for his research. The director of the Knight Cancer Institute, Druker’s developed a breakthrough targeted cancer therapy, making it possible for tens of thousands of leukemia patients to live more normal lives.

Picker, who is 56, is the associate director of the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. He came to Portland in 1999 as a professor of pathology and molecular microbiology and immunology at the OHSU School of Medicine. He has a B.S. in bacteriology from UCLA and an M.D. from the University of California at San Francisco.

The OHSU website lists 37 papers with very lengthy titles by or co-authored by Picker. The site notes that he and his colleagues have “developed special expertise in the quantification and functional characterization of antigen-specific memory T cells.”

So has a guy who spends his days contemplating highly complex and weighty matters – which could potential save millions of lives – enjoyed all this attention?

“Not really. That’s not how I’m wired,” Picker said. “I do it because it’s important to the university and to us for future funding. I’m not comfortable in the limelight, but I view it as part of my job.”

For now, though, he’s content to head back to the lab and continue his research.

“All this attention has put me way behind,” he said.

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