Link: University of Iowa

Information About

Alumni Interview

Gail Pairitz Jarvik, M.D.


What is your hometown?

Evanston, Illinois

How/when did you become interested in science and medicine?

I have been interested in genetics since childhood. I became interested in medical/quantitative genetics as an undergraduate at the UI while taking Joe Hegman’s quantitative genetics class.

What interested you to pursue a career in medicine and medical education?

I hoped to apply genetics to medicine. This was in the 1980’s, before it was in vogue!

What interested you to specialize in genetic research?

I am from a large family and noted the power of genetics there. I also appreciated the mathematical aspects of genetics.

Please highlight your major career achievements, awards, discoveries, etc.

I’ve been very fortunate to receive several academic awards and honors, including; Lifetime National Associate of the National Academies, 2004; designated “a Local Legend from Washington” by Senator Maria Cantwell in association with the American Medical Women’s Association and the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2004; Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, 1997-2001; American Heart Association Clinician Scientist Award, 1995; Chair, ELSI (Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications) Committee of the International Genetic Epidemiology Society, 2002-2004; US Chair and International Co-Chair of the First Indo-American Frontiers of Science Meeting, 2005; Chair, Genome Computational Biology and Technology study section of the NIH.

What is the significance of genetics on an individual’s predisposition to disease?

It is an exciting time to be studying genetics and, indeed, genomics. The human genome era has lent an enormous power to our understanding to find, prevent, or cure common diseases. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the US. My research gives me the opportunity to influence the health of many, many people. 

Is there a teacher, mentor or UI Carver College of Medicine faculty member who has helped shape your education?

James Hanson, the former head of pediatric genetics, has been and continues to be, a life-long mentor. I saw him two weeks ago.

How or why did you choose the UI for your education and medical training?

I chose it for the opportunity to be in a lab as an undergraduate and then stayed after acceptance into the MD-PhD program.

Please describe your professional interests.

I am interested in the genetic basis of complexly inherited diseases such as vascular disease (heart attacks and strokes) and dementia. Much of my work focuses on inflammation, oxidation, and lipids. I also am interested in the ethical and social aspects of human genetics.

What are some of your outside interests?

I am married with three children.

Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?

Always learn. Remember to teach.

What is the biggest change you've experienced in medicine since you were a student?

In genetics, we can now often find the change that leads to a disease and more therapies are being developed.

What one piece of advice you would give to today's medical students?

Do whatever you feel passionately about.

What do you see as "the future" of the medicine?

I do believe that we will be applying high-throughput genotyping or even genetic sequencing to preventative medicine. For example, I expect to see a cardiac genetic risk chip that can be interpreted as easily as someone’s cholesterol level.  I also expect genetic discoveries to lead to pathways and novel therapeutics.

More specifically, what do you see as “the future” of genetic research?

The current and future challenge is to understand the role of gene pathways and environment interactions in the most common diseases, including genetic regulation.


Medicine Alumni Society
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