Jose Leopoldo, better known as "Polo", was born sixty-five years ago in a small town in the northlands of Mexico (close to the border between the states of Sinaloa and Sonora). His father was a "rural teacher" that taught at elementary schools of the region in impoverished peasant communities of farmers and fishermen. Polo was living and educated in that environment; during his adolescence, he moved to a larger city to attend high school.
Later he moved to Mexico City to get a Medical Degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), one of the largest public universities in the world. After his training, he returned to his hometown to practice medicine. However, Polo had other academic ambitions that brought him back to Mexico City to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Immunology at the National Polythetic Institute, the second-largest public university in the country. During his training, Polo was involved in different projects. One of these, close to his heart and his political convictions, was the study of patients suffering from leprosy. Those patients came from the poorest sectors of the country, usually living in the outskirts of big cities (like Mexico City).
So, every weekend (because during weekdays he had to attend courses), he traveled through the most impoverished zones nearby Mexico City, looking for those patients and their families. He provided medical assistance and collected blood samples to pursuit a serological test for early diagnosis of leprosy. This work not only had academic merit but a social one as well, because even today, leprosy is a stigmatizing disease. Thus, finding these patients and obtaining their confidence was a titanic labour that was only possible thanks to Polo's engagement and sensibility.
In 1986, Tere his wife moved to Birmingham, U.K., looking for a Ph.D. Degree, few months later Polo moved to join her and got this opportunity to pursuit higher professional training. He moved to one of the most prestigious laboratories in B cell Biology, under the direction of John Gordon and Prof. Ian MacLennan; there Polo "Flowered" to become a leading expert in the field. Further appointments included, Glaxo in Switzerland, DNAX in France with Jacques Broncheau, and later at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in the USA. This broad academic experience cemented his quite already successful career. A happy twist in his life, indeed product of his social convictions, brought him back to Mexico, where he started a research group with a quite heretic approach. Being Polo Flores, he drove counter-current, avoiding reductionistic methods in his research, as most immunologists did in Mexico (and abroad). He engaged in a more complex panorama, trying to discover immunology from a more holistic view. His pioneering work took him abroad for a sabbatical leave with Ralph Steinman at Rockefeller University. Polo brought more experience and connections that boosted the career of his students.
He served as president of the Mexican Society of Immunology. He participated as a founding member and councillor of the Latin American Mucosal Immunology Group (LAMIG). His compromise with teaching Immunology as well as his commitment with the Mexican society of Immunology, prompted him to give numerous lectures and courses of Immunology in almost every corner of the country. He taught both basic and advanced immunology. Sometimes he also traveled abroad to fulfill something he felt like his mission, teach Immunology. He never charged for his lectures and courses, and most of the times he paid with money from his own pocket travel expenses of these academic adventures. In summary, he was a joyous promotor of Immunology everywhere.
Polo had a voracious appetitive for knowledge outside of immunology. It was difficult to argue with him because of his encyclopedic knowledge. He was a man with deep convictions, eclectic, and rebel as a good scientist must be. It was challenging to become his friend, but those who had the fortune to share friendship were blessed not only with his closeness but also with his generosity because, in the end, he was a very caring person. Polo was also a family person, where Tere his wife, and especially Paola his only daughter were the centres of his love and his attention. He sadly passed away Monday, March 23, 2020, at 1:00 am.
He leaves a big hole in the Mexican immunology. We will miss him.