I was born in Portland, Maine into a large Italian-American Family. Being only third generation American, those strong Italian traditions of family are ideals I still hold very close. I grew up in the kitchens of my grandparents. If I wasn’t helping out at my grandfather’s pizzeria, then I was in the kitchen with my grandmother making spaghetti sauce. I remember how they always told me that I had to go to college, that I had to become educated, so that unlike my family who came to America, poor and struggling, I could have a strong future.
These memories did inspire me to go to college, to become the first DePaolo to get a college degree and then the first DePaolo to get a PhD. None of my grandparents were able to celebrate these accomplishments with me. I lost all four of my grandparents to cancers and heart disease and diabetes before I graduated from college. I lost them to diseases that should be treatable, that we should be able to cure.
I was one of those loud, talkative, curious children who was always less interested in what they were supposed to be doing, and more interested in how what they were supposed to be doing was going to affect activities the next day after. I grew up to be a loud, talkative, curious adult who is also more interested in how today’s findings will impact science or life in the future. I have always been a talker, I used to talk so much that my school teachers would send me home with my unfinished lunch and notes saying, “Your son did not eat lunch today, he was too busy talking,” or would make me stand against the wall at recess because I was distracting other students during class.
I still talk a lot, but found that I also listen, and I am able to relate to those people around me. As an adult, this skill has allowed me the opportunity to establish important connections, to bridge different disciplines in science, and to initiate fruitful collaborations that other wise may not have occurred. In the end, I guess all of that time in the kitchen with my grandparents, all of those recesses I was made to stand against the wall for talking during class, and all of those uneaten lunches shaped a scientist and as a man.
What is the best thing about where you grew up?
I grew up on the coast of Maine near Portland. The best thing about living and growing up in Maine is the ocean. All of my most vivid and favorite memories from childhood have to do with the ocean, either exploring tidal pools, visiting the lighthouses, going to bed as the fog horns blared and of course eating lobster!
When you’re not in the lab, what are you doing with your free time?
When I am not in the lab, you can find me hanging with a lab, my chocolate Labrador, Sydney. I also spend a lot of time hiking or running in Griffith Park and working on my house.
What skill would you most like to develop for the zombie apocalypse?
I’ve already started performing zombie autopsies and will have an antidote ready for Phase 1 trials soon.
What do you enjoy most about working in DePaolo Lab?
The three most enjoyable parts of my job are
1) The ability to be completely creative and think out-of-the box in order to approach solving a question.
2) Not knowing where the next discovery will take you. I have gone from working on chemokines, to plague, to celiac disease, and now cancer, metabolism and microbiome.
3) Mentoring and teaching. It is a very thrilling feeling to watch members of the lab grow from an unsure trainee to a confident scientist.
What is the most important message you've gotten from your Gut Vibes?
Love what you do or else stop doing it.