Esteban G. Burchard
Faculty co-investigator, Research Enrichment Core
Professor, School of Pharmacy, Department of Bioengineering
Esteban was raised in San Francisco. His professional and personal interest in science and health disparities is drawn closely from his upbringing and influence of multiple cultures. He grew up in two of the city’s cultural centers: in the Latino Mission District and Chinatown, where he spoke Spanish and basic Cantonese. He was one of four children in a one-parent family raised by his mother, but also partially raised by a Chinese family he was close to as a child. Esteban’s mother, a public high school teacher at Mission High School, was a powerful force and expected that her son would go to college; as he put it: “there was no alternative.”
Esteban’s parents divorced when he was young, and he became “a troubled youth,” he said. A high school coach took young Esteban under his wing where he describes that: "high school wrestling and my coach Mike DeNatale saved me from the perils of growing up in a single parent household in the inner city." He joined SF State's team and wrestled throughout college. "One of the best lessons I learned was I didn't need to rely on external validation to make me feel good," he said. In this sense, wrestling was a true salvation. The sport “was tremendously helpful in preparing me to compete, to go to medical school, and to compete in medical school, and even now has helped me to compete.”
The fascination for science came from his summers working at the water near, what is now the UCSF Mission Bay, where his mom would drop him off during the summer months when no child care was available. As an undergraduate at San Francisco State, he chose marine biology, which led him to cellular and molecular biology until he firmly chose genetics and a career as a physician-scientist upon graduation. As a college student, and like many students at SF State, Burchard worked including a commission-only gig selling ice cream at Candlestick Park. "I exploited my athletic abilities, and paid for college by running harder up those stairs," he described. Burchard was on break from a roofing job when he received his acceptance letter to medical school at Stanford. His undergraduate classes in immunology and developmental biology with Professors Janis Kuby and Michael Goldman, he says, prepared him well for his medical training.
While a medical resident at Harvard, he helped identify the first gene associated with asthma severity, which was more prevalent among African Americans. "That project allowed me to merge my genetics training with my personal passion, which is health disparities," says Burchard. "It was like falling in love."
Esteban’s current research interests are around identifying “ethnic-specific” genetic and biologic risk factors for asthma, asthma severity and drug responsiveness among U.S. ethnic and racial minority groups. More specifically, he is interested in identifying biologic and genetic risk factors for asthma among Latino and African American populations, and further development of precision medicine. What brought him to SF BUILD, though, was his range of interest in caring for underserved populations, development of the next generation of researchers, and equity.
“What personally motivates me to pursue precision medicine is that there are significant parts of our society that don’t respond equally well to medications that are developed. And so what I would like to do is to make sure that we have broad inclusion of all populations so that we all equally benefit from the recent advances in biomedical and clinical research.” Ultimately, we hope SF BUILD can be a part in impacting this goal to become a reality.