Garrett Heffner, PhD

Garrett Heffner

Grosse Pointe Farms, MI

Current Residence
San Francisco, CA

Graduate Degree
PhD Immunology, Stanford University

Current Position
Director, Research Immunology, Audentes Therapeutics, Inc.

What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?

Audentes is a small gene therapy company in San Francisco, and I'm just getting started here after six years with Bluebird Bio, a gene therapy company based in Boston.Working in the biotech industry, I am focused on transforming the lives of patients with serious, life-threatening diseases. This strong focus on patients and improving patient outcomes is absolutely central to my drive each day. Given a field with such a strong foundation of innovation, it's rewarding to have the privilege to help move these ideas and innovation toward the clinic.

What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

As for science, my first experience in lab was as a high school student, for a summer at Wayne State University in downtown Detroit, studying signal transduction. I loved it, so that fall, I applied to Caltech, and by the following summer I had moved to Pasadena, and our work on melanoma during that time became my first publication. As for stem cell research, while at Caltech I took a class on hematopoiesis from Ellen Rothenberg, which eventually led to applying to Stanford and the Weissman lab. At each stage, I was utterly fascinated with the biology. Isn’t it amazing that bone marrow transplants work? How does a little stem cell play such an outsized role? Isn’t it incredible how the concepts from one stem cell system can help you think about developmental biology, cancer, aging, and so on? I’m thankful for the tremendous mentors and support I have had along the way, and the opportunity to learn as much as we can – so that eventually we can help those patients who are counting on us.

How do you spend your free time?

My wife and I just returned to San Francisco, and we are excited to be back to see friends and reacquaint ourselves with the area: make our way to wine country, Lake Tahoe, Point Reyes, and other Bay Area sites, while making time to work around the house and yard, volunteering with the local Caltech Alumni Association, and so on. Our bigger passions are travel and cooking. I have made my own sous vide device, and we try to dabble with different flavors we have experienced in our travels. We tell friends and family: come out to San Francisco, we would love to cook for you!

What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

Peers actually aren’t surprised that I’m a karaoke aficionado, so I’ll go with ‘Lifelong Detroit Lions fan’, which usually surprises people. Although I have lived in the Bay Area, Boston, and Seattle – all cities with strong football traditions – I have always stuck with the Lions, and I see them every chance I get, whether in person or on TV. After the Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh, I even created a Sudoku in his honor, which I titled a SuhDoku, where the given values were macroscopically oriented as his college jersey number. I do believe I’ll live to see the Lions win a Super Bowl, and I don’t think it’s as far off as some people believe. As for karaoke?  My go-to’s are usually Detroit artists, from Bob Seger to Eminem, White Stripes, or Motown.  

What do you most value from your membership with the ISSCR?

ISSCR is the preeminent forum for hearing about stem cell research, advances, and innovation which will drive our next generation of medicine. It’s the chance to revisit old friends in a new setting, not only in reference to people, but also ideas. As a member of the Junior Investigator Committee, I’m also thankful for the opportunity to help address issues which will shape the next generation of stem cell researchers, and help keep them engaged in the community. Together, our community will change science.


View additional ISSCR Member Spotlights