Scientist Spotlight: Marcelo Freire
Marcelo Freire, an associate professor in the Genomic Medicine and Infectious Disease Department at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), is currently working on decoding immune-microbiome genes and interactions. Growing up in Brazil and a curious person by nature, he often found himself wondering how things work, how animals and plants interact, and why some people get sick and others don’t. He has always pondered what factors control these biological interactions and what role he could play in making things better.
Marcelo started his academic career in dental medicine at Campos College of Dentistry, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. He went on to earn a PhD from USC and a DMSc from Harvard and developed his initial professional career as a clinician-scientist at both The Forsyth Institute and Harvard. After seeing first-hand the many people in need in his home country as well as in the United States, he realized that while clinicians can help one patient at a time, a scientist has the potential to impact potentially millions of people at once.
Today, Marcelo’s primary research focus is on understanding and modulating inflammation. In pursuit of an independent scientific career, Marcelo was offered more traditional academic positions until someone asked him a simple question, “Where would be a dream place for your work to expand to make a global impact?” He thought of a person doing disruptive science and one he had long been following, J. Craig Venter. He immediately knew that JCVI was the place offering innovative science platforms and bold ideas where he could flourish.
As part of the collaborative and multidisciplinary team at JCVI, Marcelo is working to understand molecular predictors of high inflammatory profiles involved in human diseases worldwide. “How is the microbiome guiding the immune system? Are there environmental factors modulating these interactions? “How” and “why” do common inflammatory pathways fail to operate and cause diseases?”, he asks. “I am particularly interested in chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, lupus and periodontal diseases, and cancer.” His approach is focused on innate immune cell response to the microbiome, which he likes to call the “Pac-Man” cells of the body. Marcelo hopes his work will lead to enhanced understanding of novel biology, early diagnostics and improved therapeutics
In his spare time, Marcelo loves to read vintage books and to bake. He is on a mission to bake the perfectly textured brownie! He also enjoys fermenting foods and learning how the microbiome and fermentation interact with food. Marcelo also likes to play the Pac-Man video game as it reminds him of the human immune system, and he does all of this while maintaining an active scientific education social channel called Science Café. He is very happy and proud to be on the JCVI team and to have the freedom as a big thinker to improve human health.