David Sullivan

Trailblazing Men

ASIP Highlights Session:
I Am An ASIP Member and This Is My Science

  • Experimental Biology 2019 – Orlando FL

David Sullivan, PhD

Research Assistant Professor
Northwestern University Feinburg School of Medicine
Chicago, IL

Sometimes those tacky quotes on motivational posters have a bit of truth in them. That one about journey being more important than the destination seems to fit with the career trajectory of many scientists. It certainly fits with my circuitous route, with more setbacks and course corrections than I care to admit. My particular path has wound through several different model organisms, experimental techniques, and even diverse fields.

As an undergraduate at Indiana University, I joined the lab of John P. Richardson, one of the pioneers from the golden age of molecular biology. The Richardson lab was focused on the structure and function of the bacterial transcription termination factor Rho. The classical training and environment made for a great and formative experience, even though most of my time there was spent trying (and failing) to get simple PCRs to work.

Having cut my teeth on some basic techniques, I decided to jump in the deep end and was accepted to the University of Wisconsin graduate program in Biochemistry. I somehow stumbled my way into the tortuous world of membrane and lipid biochemistry under the tutelage of Anant K. Menon. Frustrations abounded as my love/hate relationship with lipids took me on a humbling, albeit informative, rollercoaster ride of emotion and learning (and some emotional learning). Despite numerous setbacks, which included 6 months chasing a signal that was actually glued from the tube caps, I managed to cobble together a project investigating how cholesterol moves between membranes in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Although I now have a finer appreciation for the awesome power of yeast genetics and the beauty of biophysics, the real learning, as with all proper graduate studies, could not be found in a textbook. Like so many scientists before me, the true challenge of research is struggling with confusing setbacks and learning how to persevere on the often slow march to positive results.

After graduating, I continued up the evolutionary tree of models organisms and started working with mammalian cells in culture. Under the mentorship of Bill Muller at Northwestern University, I was tasked with biochemically purifying a novel intracellular organelle, the LBRC. It facilitates the migration of white blood cells out of the blood vessel and into tissue and is required for mounting an effective inflammatory response. The LBRC can only be collected from endothelial cells, the major source of which is fresh umbilical cords. Although the purification process was long and arduous, we purified enough to get a vanishingly small but usable amount from ~200 umbilical cords. Out of that process, we were able to identify a handful of proteins, including a large multidomain scaffolding protein known as IQGAP1. We could then perform all the standard molecular techniques in vitro to tease apart its function and examine its mechanism with a line of investigation that continues to prove fruitful.

As knockout mice exist for IQGAP1, we were also able to do some interesting in vivo experiments as well. As expected, mice lacking IQGAP1 had significant defects in several models of inflammation. This led to some truly enjoyable live animal imaging experiments. Using cutting-edge microscopy, we were able to witness white blood cells crawling along the blood vessel and into tissue, which is something that never seems to get old to me. Having established this technical setup, we were then able to expand our live animal imaging to several other interesting topics such as visualizing live parasites in the bloodstream and tracking white blood cells in the meninges after inducing a stroke.

Having started my career with the ‘lowly’ bacterium, I never would have guessed I would someday be making movies of blood cells in a living mouse. Although my path has been unpredictable, what I can say is that ASIP has been and continues to be a big part of it. I think many people view science as a solitary pursuit and envision people toiling away in silence. At least that was my mindset as a naïve undergraduate and graduate student. Becoming a part of ASIP opened my eyes to the broader scientific community and showed me the rewarding world of collaborative science. Belonging to a professional society as supportive and inclusive as ASIP has been incredibly fulfilling for my personal and professional growth. Looking back, I am incredibly thankful that Dr. Muller pushed me to get involved in this supportive and dynamic society.

Pilar Alcaide, PhD

Trailblazing Women

ASIP Highlights Session:
I Am An ASIP Member and This Is My Science

  • Experimental Biology 2019 – Orlando FL

Pilar Alcaide, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of Immunology
Tufts University School of Medicine
Boston MA

As a PhD-trained veterinary pathologist, my interests lie in the intersection of discovery, translational, and clinical research.  I study comparative oncology, meaning cancers that occur in both animals and people.  The old saying, “people resemble their pets” is quite true. One cancer that is quite similar in both dogs and people is lymphoma.  Lymphoma, a cancer of immune cells in the blood, is a “liquid tumor” that can affect every organ in the body. Precisely how lymphoma picks which organs to invade has stumped physicians and scientists for decades.

My name is Pilar Alcaide and I am an Associate Professor of Immunology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA. My career started with a Bachelor in Science degree at the University Autonoma of Madrid, Spain, followed by a PhD degree in Molecular Biology and Immunology in the same University. Funded by a Fulbright scholarship I went to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Department of Pathology, to do postdoctoral training in Vascular Biology under the mentorship of Dr. Bill Luscinskas. He introduced me to ASIP. I first became a trainee member, and I later on took other roles in ASIP as my career evolved.

My research combines the areas of immunology and vascular biology to study chronic inflammation. We focus on identifying pathways of T cell activation and trafficking across the vascular endothelium in diseases and syndromes not conventionally thought to be immune mediated in nature. The main example is heart failure, the clinical manifestation of numerous forms of cardiovascular disease that is the predominant cause of mortality in the United States. We demonstrated that T cell infiltration in the mouse and in the human heart is associated with cardiac dysfunction in heart failure. A pathogenic role for T cells was further demonstrated in several studies that demonstrated that either depleting T cells or preventing them from reaching the heart, protects from non-ischemic heart failure. My laboratory studies why, how and where T cells become activated in heart failure, how do they traffic to the heart, and once there, how do they communicate with heart stromal cells to induce cardiac dysfunction. Being in academic science is fun, is rewarding, is enriching….and is challenging and requires a lot of hard work to balance several things at once. When I was a trainee and attended the ASIP annual meetings and listened to amazing talks by excellent speakers, and I always asked myself how they did it. How do you navigate the challenges to become a principal investigator while balancing your personal life? Looking back, a few years and three children later, I can say with confidence that the most important thing is to love and enjoy what you do. Once that box is checked, it is easier to be disciplined, to work hard and persevere, to manage time efficiently and be a team member, to be resilient and to listen and learn from the best. Being part of ASIP has made a difference in my career, has connected me with many peers from whom I have learned these important values to continue doing what I love.

Prince Awuah, PhD

Trailblazing Men

ASIP Highlights Session:
I Am An ASIP Member and This Is My Science

  • Experimental Biology 2019 – Orlando FL

Prince Awuah, PhD

Toxicologist
Center for Tobacco Products
US Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring MD

I was fortunate to be a speaker at the EB2019 Trailblazer session. This was a really wonderful and well-attended session. The title of my talk was “My journey: From bench scientist to my commission to serve and protect public health from tobacco products”. The goal of my talk was to demonstrate to audience that there are many career opportunities available. During this talk, I spoke about my career progression from my graduate training at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine to my current career as a United States Public Health Commissioned Officer at the Food and Drug Administration. I briefly summarized my research findings from my work throughout the different stages of my career. I spent more time talking about my current work at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products (FDA/CTP). Here at CTP, I am involved in multiple on-going research initiatives designed to protect the health of the public from harm associated with usage of tobacco products. I ended my talk with a brief discussion about my new exciting/demanding role as a United States Commissioned Officer. As a commissioned officer, part of my role is to protect, promote and advance the health and safety of the public through many avenues including educating the public and rapid response to public health needs.