Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Love in the Lab: Valentine’s Day with the Doctors Delgoffe

CRI celebrates Valentine’s Day with immunologists Abby and Greg Delgoffe

At first glance, one might not link science and love. Science is calculated and involves data, experiments, and empirical evidence. Love is poetic – an invisible force that engages our most intense emotions. One is seemingly of the mind and the other of the heart.

This Valentine’s Day, we share with you a tale of romance born in the lab between husband and wife, Greg Delgoffe, PhD, and Abigail Overacre-Delgoffe, PhD. Their story demonstrates that science and love can be not only compatible but also synergistic. Far from a cerebral obstacle to their love, they both credit science as a shared passion that brought them together.

Drs. Greg Delgoffe and Abigail Overacre-Delgoffe. Image courtesy of Abby Overacre-Delgoffe

Drs. Greg Delgoffe and Abigail Overacre-Delgoffe (Greg and Abby) both currently work at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Abby is an assistant professor within the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Immunology and runs her own lab focusing on the interaction between the microbiome and immune cells, particularly regulatory T cells, in the context of cancer. Greg, a CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR and an associate professor in the Department of Immunology, directs the Tumor Microenvironment Center and runs the Grad Student and Postdoc Research-In-Progress seminar series. Additionally, Greg oversees his own lab focused on cancer immunometabolism. Both Abby and Greg are members of the Tumor Microenvironment Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hillman Cancer Center.

For Valentine’s Day 2023, we spoke with the Delgoffes about their life together in science and what they’ve learned from each other.

When and where did you two first meet?

“We met in the lab. I was doing my postdoc at St. Jude in Memphis, where I was finishing up a paper, and that’s when Abby started in the lab,” said Greg, who worked along with Abby for Dr. Dario Vignali at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. While they began as colleagues, a friendship soon blossomed.

“I was very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited about science,” added Abby, who recalled spilling some lab ice being used by Greg, who at that time was “very jaded at the end of trying to get a paper out. We were the only two people working on neuropilin at the time. We were kind of like this little team, working on this really interesting molecule.”

The transition from friendship to a romantic relationship was gradual. Then Greg had to decide where he was going to set up his lab. “We were like super friends, it was great,” he noted before adding. “I mean, I thought she was cute.”

When it came time for Greg to choose where to start his lab, possibly in Pittsburgh where Abby was relocating with her lab, Greg recalls her nudging that “it would be cool to be close by.”

According to Abby, a temporary distance inevitably made their hearts grow fonder.

“At one point, we weren’t around each other for a couple of months. Once we got to see each other again, it was like maybe there’s more here than just being a good buddy in the lab,” Abby reminisced.

Drs. Greg Delgoffe and Abigail Overacre-Delgoffe. Image courtesy of Abby Overacre-Delgoffe

Do you bounce ideas off each other or draw inspiration from each other’s work?

“Yes, all the time, actually. When we first started working together, we had this joint love of [regulatory T cells],” Abby said. “There are some couples that are science couples, and other couples that need space at work. Our labs are next to each other, which is really fun. We’re talking about putting a couple of grants together, just because there’s a lot of overlap. It’s nice to have someone who understands the stress and excitement of science.”

Greg noted that their love of science flows from their professional connection into their personal lives.

“Starting as coworkers and becoming really good friends, and then becoming partners, has been great for our personal lives. Every grant I ever put in and every grant she ever put in always had another pair of eyes on it. It gives us this immense connection that also improves our personal relationship as well,” Greg gushed.

What has science taught you about love? What has love taught you about science?

“In both science and love, you have to swing for the fences,” Greg claimed. “Kissing Abby for the first time was a swing for the fences, I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received. Not unlike putting in a paper to Nature. The second part is, when you swing for the fences, you have to pursue, and you have to persevere. It’s not always going to be puppies and rainbows.”

Abby’s journeys in love and science taught her the value of time.

“Science will definitely teach you to be patient because everything takes forever. Papers and projects, everything just takes a long time. Enjoying the ride along the way I think is really important and that’s one of the best things about being in love.”

Do you have a favorite Valentine’s Day memory?

“I remember one Valentine’s Day, early on, before kids. Greg gave me a card,” Abby recalled. “The card had a printout of this awesome resort that we were going to go to in Mexico. It was this very spontaneous thing. That was really exciting because Greg writes the best cards. He comes from a family where you write a nice card. It was a sweet note, and the trip was really nice.”

What’s your advice for other couples who are in science?

“Listening is a really important thing in any relationship,” Greg emphasized. “You have to be an attentive listener, understanding that sometimes, when people complain about something at work, they just want to complain. They don’t want a solution. I think understanding when to provide constructive criticism about somebody versus just being there for each other and being a supportive partner is important.”

Where Greg stressed the importance of thoughtful communication, Abby expressed thanks for being able to work regularly with her best friend.

“You have to learn how to navigate being a couple at work. I think it’s important for each person in the relationship to know themselves and know how they’ll be most successful at work while also maintaining a good relationship,” Abby stated. “I basically get to do my favorite thing all day, which means work is fun for me. There are very few people who get that opportunity. Be thankful that you get to work with your best friend every day.”

Drs. Greg Delgoffe and Abigail Overacre-Delgoffe. Image courtesy of Abby Overacre-Delgoffe

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