Getting to Know Dr. Herzog and Dr. Srivastava
This month, the Department of Pediatrics at UF will honor two inaugural Children’s Miracle Network Scholars, Dr. Roland Herzog and Dr. Arun Srivastava, for their substantial contributions to the world of pediatric medicine and research. Get to know these two researchers better, as we learn more about topics like the research they are conducting to their favorite memories at UF Health Shands.
Dr. Roland Herzog is a professor of pediatrics, microbiology and molecular genetics in the division of cellular and molecular therapy at the University of Florida. His research program seeks to develop gene therapy for hemophilia and to establish immune tolerance protocols for genetic diseases. His studies have led to numerous groundbreaking adeno-associated virus vectors.
- When and how did you decide to become a pediatric researcher? I never actually made the decision to become a pediatric researcher. I was an Auburn graduate student finishing my Ph.D. in microbiology and had an interest in genetic engineering and applications of that. Gene therapy was a field that was just emerging in the early to mid-90s and I was graduating in 1996. I had an interview in a gene therapy lab at a children’s hospital in Philadelphia when I saw what they were doing with gene therapy for hemophilia. They offered me a job, and I stuck with that ever since. Then I got a faculty position here in the department of pediatrics. It wasn’t ever a conscious decision; it was about wanting to help develop this gene therapy for hemophilia.
- Why is it important to conduct the type of research you do? It helps patients. And it goes beyond hemophilia — the same concepts can be used for all sorts of diseases. My personal hope is that something that I do at some point will make a difference in the lives of people with hemophilia — that in the end, I’m not just curing animals or doing stuff with test strips. Actually, some of that lab research has led to clinical trials, so in some sense, I can already see the fruits of what I’ve been doing.
- How long have you been working at UF Health Shands Hospital? I came here in 2005 as an associate professor and was promoted to professor in 2011.
- What do you enjoy most about working at UF Health Shands? Collaborations with other scientists who are working toward common goals with others. I have great colleagues and it’s a great environment. The department of pediatrics has been a very good home, and I think it’s remarkable that those of us who have Ph.D.s and don’t see patients have received that much support and appreciation in a clinical department.
- What are some of your favorite memories working at UF Health? Every time you get a grant, it’s exciting; and every time you publish a paper or your research is being recognized, you get excited. But, I think the biggest deal was probably in 2012 when I got the Basic Science Research Award from the UF College of Medicine.
- What is something people may not know about you? I have two little kids—Christopher, 2, and Alexander, 6. One is at Baby Gator and one just graduated. They are big Gator fans already. I also drive a 1989 Pontiac Firebird 20th Anniversary Trans Am.
- If you were not a researcher, what job do you think you would do? When I was in high school, I was a nerd. I liked stuff like history and classical languages. I would have probably been a historian or a journalist.
Dr. Srivastava is the George H. Kitzman professor of genetics and chief of division of cellular & molecular therapy. He has conducted research for more than three decades, focusing on the adeno-associated virus (AAV) and B19 parvovirus. His studies have led to numerous groundbreaking discoveries, and he played a major role in the development of the next generation of AAV vectors..
- When and how did you decide to become a pediatric researcher? In the mid ‘80s, when it became clear that AAV was going to be a useful vector for gene therapy; I also wanted to see if I could target a human disease. Unfortunately for me, all good diseases were taken (if there is any such thing as a ‘good disease’!). So, I reasoned that if gene therapy were ever to become a reality someday, I should target the one genetic disease that afflicts most human beings on earth. That disease is hemoglobinopathy [beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease]. One in every 600 humans on earth suffers from these diseases, and there is no permanent cure. I have been chasing that dream ever since. After joining the department of pediatrics in 2004, I also decided to target the most common childhood liver cancer, hepatoblastoma. Hopefully, we have developed novel AAV vectors that can target these devastating diseases in children.
- Why is it important to conduct the type of research you do? If the type of research that we do can lead to the development of strategies to permanently cure some of these diseases, then I believe my life will have been well spent.
- How long have you been working at UF Health Shands Hospital? I first came to the University of Florida in 1980 to work as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of the world-renowned AAV pioneer, Dr. Kenneth I. Berns. That was more than 33 years ago. I was very fortunate to be recruited back to the UF in 2004. This is by far the best place to work and live, and I plan to die in Gainesville.
- What do you enjoy most about working at UF Health Shands? Thanks largely due to Dr. Berns, who created an environment where there are no real boundaries among basic science and clinical departments, UF Health Shands offers a unique opportunity to work closely both with basic and clinical scientists.
- What are some of your favorite memories working at UF Health Shands? The very first day I came to Gainesville, and met with Dr. Berns, he said, “Life is too short to be tense!” I really liked his philosophy, and have tried to live a happy life. My second favorite memory is when I came back to Gainesville in 2004, and it felt like I had died and gone to heaven.
- What is something people may not know about you? People have suspected all along, but I think they do not really know what a nice guy I am.
- If you were not a researcher, what job do you think you would do? My wife, my daughter and my mother-in-law think that I should go to medical school and become a medical doctor. However, having worked on AAV for more than three decades, I cannot imagine doing anything else. My wife is a physician-scientist here at UF, and my son is about to graduate from medical school, also here at UF, so I think I am perfectly content living vicariously through them.