Harry Kestler remembers the moment and cannot help but laugh. He was in high school, a senior in Rochester, New York, and he was sitting in the guidance counselor’s office. “I went in to talk to the counselor about college,” said Kestler, “and all I can remember my counselor saying to me was Oh, you’re going to college.” Kestler shrugs now as he imitates the stunned tone of his counselor’s voice. “I wasn’t on the college track I guess,” said Kestler.
Harry made it to college though and today everyone calls him Doctor.
Dr. Harry Kestler is a Professor of Microbiology at Lorain County Community College and very much like the experience with his high school counselor, his past has had a lot to do with his present. “Thirty seven years ago my little brother got a disease,” remembers Kestler, “and we really didn’t know what was wrong with him. We thought he had broken his bones. We thought all kinds of strange things. There was a lot of didn’t know there.” It turned out that Kestler’s brother, Michael, had rheumatic fever. A young Harry was so intrigued by his brother’s sickness that he began to study it. “Rheumatic fever is caused by a micro-organism called streptococcus pyogens,” said Kestler. “It’s a fascinating micro-organism. So, I think it was my brother’s disease that got me interested in microbiology in the first place.”
Kestler’s brother Michael made it through his battle with rheumatic fever and Harry, himself, made it through the doubts of his high school guidance counselor. In a manner of eight years, 1977-to-1985, Kestler earned his associate of science degree in psychology from Monroe Community College, his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Rochester and finally his doctorate in molecular biology. When Kestler was in graduate school, he discovered his future. “My work,” said Kestler, “was in ribosomal proteins and Escherichia coli. But, I thought what can I research that would make a big impact. At the time, a lot of people were getting sick and dying with a disease that’s called HIV-AIDS.” That disease became Kestler’s focus and in 1985 the Harvard Medical School became his research home.
Dr. Kestler did his post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School’s Primate Research Center. “We were looking at an animal model for AIDS,” Kestler said. In 1990, a Harvard group, led by Kestler, molecularly cloned a virus and demonstrated that AIDS is caused by that virus. “It was a pretty big deal,” said Kestler. He was the first author on the paper titled Induction of AIDS in Rhesus Monkeys by Simian Immunodeficiency Virus. Kestler’s work was featured in Science Magazine, a highly respected publication on biology, chemistry and physics. He was also interviewed by The New York Times.
Dr. Kestler likes to tell the students in his microbiology class at LCCC that even with research, luck sometimes plays a role in discovery. “I stumbled on a vaccine for HIV while I was at Harvard,” said Kestler. “It was a live attenuated vaccine that worked very well in rhesus monkeys.” The discovery was published in Cell magazine and the vaccine worked, fighting off HIV, for 10 years in the monkeys. “Unfortunately,” said Kestler, “the monkeys eventually got sick.”
By 1991, Kestler’s research work in HIV-AIDS took him to the Cleveland Clinic and it’s there that he led a group that developed the suicide vaccine. “What we did,” explained Kestler, “is we inserted a gene that we could use to turn the virus off.” That discovery brought Kestler national recognition again. The suicide vaccine was featured on CNN, in the New York Times and even as part of Paul Harvey’s syndicated radio commentary. The vaccine “showed promise,” said Kestler, “and elements of our work has been incorporated into vaccines being tested now.” One day, if a cure for AIDS is discovered, Kestler will feel very much a part of it. “And that’s a good feeling,” he said.
Dr. Kestler is in his eleventh year of teaching on the LCCC campus. He has class offerings in HIV-AIDS, the Microbial World and a conducts a Biotechnology Program that is a 100% hands-on lab course. He also teaches Advanced Micro-Biology and Introduction to Micro-Biology and offers Independent Research Projects. Dr. Kestler is one of several LCCC professors that offer their lectures via podcasting. “Podcasting is the most popular thing I have ever done with the students,” he said. “I move at a fast pace and this gives them the option of stopping me in mid-sentence.” Kestler also makes video available on podcasting. “The video part gives the students a chance to view procedures before they are about to do them,” he said.
“I’ve basically had two careers in my life,” said Kestler. “One in research and one in teaching and both of them are different. In research, you’re discovering new things everyday and that’s a pretty big high. In teaching, somebody else is doing the discovery and you’re getting a chance to see that and I truly enjoy witnessing that process.”
“Discovery,” Kestler added , “is a wonderful way of life.”
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