Malcolm Gebauer was only 5 years old when his father was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a deadly form of blood cancer.

“My father was given a verdict of six months before he was selected to participate in a clinical trial for an experimental drug. He’s lived 19 years since,” said Gebauer, a 24-year-old budding physician-scientist who is graduating with his master’s degree in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine from the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “In the future, we will possess the knowledge to deploy stem cells as therapeutic agents in numerous diseases. I want to make sure that I am poised to execute those procedures as a clinician.”

Having witnessed his father’s recovery, Gebauer started to appreciate the life-saving translations of innovation.

“I realized how impactful a physician can be in the life of a person,” he said.

However, he didn’t rendezvous with research until he grew older, when he started working in a synthetic organic chemistry lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he synthesized and tested small molecules.

“I loved the innovation and complexity inherent in synthesizing small molecules. Procedural experiments made me meticulous with the way I move my hands — hands that I hope some day will perform surgeries,” Gebauer said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in molecular, cell and developmental biology, he moved to Los Angeles to work under the mentorship of Michael Sofroniew, MD, PhD, at UCLA. He studied the ways in which embryonic stem cells could be used to regenerate motor circuits following spinal injury. He became fascinated by the untapped, therapeutic potential of stem cells. One year later, he found his way to USC’s master’s program.

Gebauer aims to become a surgeon and leverage his knowledge of stem cells to develop and execute protocols for regenerative medicine.

“I want to become the kind of doctor that helped my father live those several extra years,” Gebauer said. “I want to empower myself with knowledge and experience, do what’s best for my patients and help humanity in any little way that I can.”

— Aabha Morey