Mary Louise Markert, MD, PhD

Immunology has been the focus of my research career since the summer after my junior year in high school. The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine had a program for high school students who were interested in science. My project, with mentor Marianna Cherry PhD, focused on identification of T cells in mice.  This summer research experience set me on my path for life.

My next research experience in immunology was with Peter Cresswell, PhD at Duke University. I worked as a technician in his laboratory in the summer after my junior year in college.  I eventually completed a PhD with Dr. Cresswell as part of the Duke M.D., Ph.D. program. My dissertation focused on characterization of the molecules forming the human Major Histocompatibility Complex.  During my time with Dr. Cresswell, I also met Bernard Amos, MD at Duke who encouraged me to go into Pediatrics after the M.D., Ph.D. program because of the future potential to use molecular techniques to elucidate the basis of inherited immunodeficiency diseases. I followed his advice even though at the time I had not considered working with children. I then entered the Duke Pediatric Allergy and Immunology training program under the leadership of Rebecca Buckley, MD. Dr. Buckley was, and continues to be, a wonderful mentor for me in immunology.

It was when I joined the Pediatric faculty in Allergy and Immunology that I developed a passion for caring for children. A mother, Sarah Routman, whose infant daughter had Combined Immunodeficiency once told me that I had to play with her daughter before discussing the technical issues and the severity of her daughter’s illness. Playing with her baby and all subsequent babies opened my heart to them. These children have been such a source of joy in my life.

My career path changed in 1992 when I answered a phone call from Knoxville, Tennessee. A physician called to ask what could be done to help a baby born with DiGeorge syndrome. My desire to help that child and others like him led to my career in thymus transplantation. Barton Haynes, MD, Professor of Medicine and Immunology at Duke had studied normal human thymus biology for 10 years prior to my asking for his assistance. As a mentor, his support in the early years in the characterization of the thymus cultured in my laboratory was very important for the development of the Thymus Transplantation Program. I must also mention the support of the NIH and the FDA both of which provided very important guidance in my thymus work. The accomplishments that I am most proud of are the characterization of complete DiGeorge anomaly and the development of thymus transplantation as an investigational therapy for complete DiGeorge anomaly.  

Regarding wisdom which I pass along to others, I recommend finding an area of study that you are passionate about and following your heart.