by Christen Brownlee
They’ve developed a new test for tuberculosis that dramatically shrinks the time and sample size needed to reliably detect even drug-resistant strains that other tests are hard-pressed to identify—a boon for the tens of thousands of Peruvians struck with tuberculosis each year. They’ve identified city drinking water as an important source of Helicobacter pylori infection in Peruvian children, and thus a way to prevent widespread gastritis and ulcers. They’ve also discovered previously unknown bacteria and protozoa that are causing emerging infections, including cyclospora, a protozoa that causes diarrhea.
His work in Peru has resulted in more than 400 papers in prestigious journals. He even learned to live well there as a foreigner, raising two kids with his wife, Jo Gilman, and residing in the country throughout the uprising by the Maoist insurgent group, the Shining Path.
But the accomplishment that seems to matter the most to Gilman is the strong network of research colleagues and trainees that he’s strung together across this country.
“If I had to say what I’ve been really good at doing, it’s bringing Peruvians to the U.S. for training and getting them back to Peru to build what I hope is a sustainable operation,” he says. “The people here need me like a hole in the head. My goal is to build a sustainable unit that doesn’t depend on me in most ways.”
By choosing smart junior colleagues and students and giving them responsibility for projects, Gilman empowers them to eventually become leaders in their own fields. Later, after many of these young researchers pursue further training in the U.S. and other countries, they come back to launch their own labs—taking Gilman’s philosophy to a new generation.
Gilman’s trainees stretch across Peru like “a giant fan,” he says, sometimes working individually on their own projects and grants, sometimes coming together to pool their expertise.
“These people are completely able to do everything without me,” he says, “and that’s what I’ve always wanted.”
Four members of the vast Gilman network share their stories on the following pages.
“These people are completely able to do everything without me, and that’s what I’ve always wanted.”
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