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Robert Genta was formerly Professor of Pathology, Medicine, and Microbiology and Molecular Virology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and also the Clinical Executive of the Diagnostic and Therapeutic Care Line at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He now works in the Division of Clinical Patholgy at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. He studied medicine at the University of Turin, Italy. After a few years of nomadic medical wanderings In northern Europe, Bosnia, Taiwan, and Yemen, he settled in the United States, where he trained in Pathology at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, and in immunology at the National Institute of Infectious Disease, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland. His main interest is the geographic pathology of gastrointestinal infections. After working on the immunology of intestinal nematodes for ten years, he took a sabbatical in gastrointestinal pathology at the University of Washington, Seattle, with the late Rodger Haggitt and Cyrus Rubin. There, he developed an interest in the then emerging Helicobacter pylori, and has worked on gastritis ever since. He has authored more that 160 scientific articles, 30 book chapters, and co-edited two books. He is a member of the editorial board of six international journals. He is married to Marcia, a rheumatologist, and they have two sons, Maximilian and Benjamin.
- What made you decide to become a gastrointestinal pathologist?
- After my experience as a volunteer medical officer in Yemen, I moved to the United States to get training in infectious disease, thinking that one day I would go back to the tropics. My plan was to start with a year of pathology to get acquainted with the system, and then move on. Instead, I found some inspiring teachers, and I stayed in pathology. At NIH I started working on intestinal nematodes, and the connection with the pathology of the gastrointestinal tract developed naturally.
- Who was the teacher you admired the most?
- Cyrus Rubin at the University of Washington. During my sabbatical year we spent hundreds of hours at the microscope together, discussing everything from goblet cells to Sephardic music. I have not met another person with such a breadth of knowledge, clarity of thought, and such a warm, loving teaching style. When I give a lecture or write a paper, I always ask myself "What would Cy think of this?"
- Which research paper influenced you the most?
- Max Siurala’s early work on gastritis. With limited means, while Finland was emerging from a devastating war, he carried out a huge amount of fieldwork, complemented by elegant pathological observations that opened the doors to our understanding of how gastritis evolves.
- What is the most important fact that you have discovered?
- I am not sure I can call it that "important," but the idea that disseminated strongyloidiasis may be caused not by immunosuppression, but by a direct effect of glucocorticosteroids on the parasitic larvae was my most imaginative contribution to science. Molecular wizards working on nematode steroid receptors are now proving it right.
- What is the biggest mistake that you have made?
- When a pathologist makes a wrong diagnosis on a frozen specimen during an operation, the patient may undergo the unnecessary removal of an organ. I remember every detail of two such mistakes I made, and I tell the stories to each of my trainees.
- What is your unfulfilled ambition?
- To publish a grammar of Ladino, the language that evolved from Spanish as it was spoken by Sephardic Jews in North Africa, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and parts of the Near East for five centuries. It will hardly become a best seller, but I hope I can devote my retirement to the project.
- How do you relax?
- By studying a language. I am quite fluent in eight languages, but I have studied at least another fifteen and I am always studying one or two at any given time. Sometimes I find old exercises I wrote in Urdu, Icelandic, or Malay years ago, and I do not remember a word of them. However, few things stimulate me as learning a new alphabet or understanding an intricate linguistic point.
- What is your favorite sport?
- I am afraid I am totally challenged in this area. I used to ski, but now I neither practice nor enjoy watching any sport. I feel an obligation to root for the Brazilian soccer team when my wife (who is Brazilian) watches World Cup games, but that is as far as I go.
- What is your best place in the world?
- Many! Parts of Provence, the Italian coast south of Naples, some small Brazilian towns in the Northwest. A beautiful seascape is fundamental to me.
- What is your favorite film?
- "The unbearable lightness of being" based on Milan Kundera's book.
- What car do you drive?
- A huge heavy 4-wheel drive Lexus SUV. Anti-ecological and totally useless in flat Houston, but it is reassuring to see the road from 50 cm above the other cars.
- What is your best electronic 'toy'?
- My dedicated PC with a word processing program that can write (and spell-check!) almost any alphabet in the world.
- What book are you reading at the moment?
- "The Unconsoled" by Kazuo Ishiguro, for the second time. The continuous unreasonable demands to which Mr Ryder is subjected remind me of our daily life in bureaucracy-filled academic institutions.
- Why did you get in involved in GastroHep.com?
- Prof. Pounder invited me to join, and I found the project timely and exciting!
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