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Stanford Oral History Collections

McDevitt, Hugh O.
McDevitt, Hugh O.
McDevitt, Hugh O. and Smuga-Otto, Kim
Corporate Author:
Stanford Historical Society
Hugh O. McDevitt is Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and of Medicine, Emeritus known for his work on major histocompatibility complex (MHC) and its role in various autoimmune diseases. McDevitt discusses his critical research in proving the genetic basis for our bodies’ ability to recognize and defend against pathogens, both from a scientific and personal perspective. He begins the interview by describing his early life and how his father, a surgeon, influenced his decision to pursue medicine. He discusses his undergraduate career in the late 1940s at Stanford University, described by others as a “good solid provincial university,” and his undergraduate work in Raymond Barrett’s genetics lab where he mapped the location of a fungus gene involved in metabolism. While the results of this research were not groundbreaking, he stresses the importance of this technique to his later immunology research. Beyond his academic experiences, he speaks about his student life, the jobs he took to help cover his tuition and board, and the death of his father. McDevitt goes on to discuss his medical education and training at Harvard Medical School, his internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York—during which he rode the “home care ambulance” all over the city—and his military service in Japan. He recounts his research in Albert Coons’s lab at Harvard and his decision to come to Stanford School of Medicine as a faculty member in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology. McDevitt explains how, prior to Stanford, he had observed a difference in the immune system’s reaction to a synthetic peptide between two mice strains. He goes into detail about how, at Stanford, he took a genetic approach to solving this problem and, through selective and extensive breeding, was able to identify the genes (later called the major histocompatibility complex) responsible for the strains’ different reactions. McDevitt gives a technical account of this research, the technical constraints of the day, and the research’s effects. He goes on to talk about setting up and running his lab and his experiences teaching, practicing medicine, and chairing his department. At the end of the interview he gives his perspective of how Stanford changed from a “solid provincial regional university” to a “first-class university.”
Hugh O. McDevitt, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, professors, antibody research, and Wallace Sterling
July 23, 2015
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012