David Traver, Ph.D.
Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Section of Cell and Developmental Biology
University of California, San Diego, CA USA
Dr. David Traver is a professor and researcher in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. He has been in the field of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell biology for 19 years, and an ISEH member for more than a decade. Dr. Traver’s lab is interested in the formation and function of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), and how their progeny provide immunity in the young animal. While most of his lab’s studies are conducted in zebrafish, they have recently reinitiated studies in the mouse embryo and in human ES cells.
Dr. Traver finds immense value in the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting. "The meetings are wonderful,” he says. "They are large enough to bring in great science, but small enough to feel like family. Many great collaborations have been started at these meetings, which are always in wonderful locations around the globe.” Dr. Traver notes that he also appreciates "the outstanding science, and ability to reconnect with colleagues in the many excellent social programs.”
Dr. Traver took the time to participate in a Q&A with Connections
. Below he discusses how he found his way into the field of hematology and stem cell research, his philosophy for mentoring investigators in his lab, exciting developments both in his lab and his field, as well as the challenges he faces.
How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
DT: After entering the Immunology Ph.D. Program at Stanford, I joined the laboratory of Irv Weissman, where I became interested in leukemia. I created several mouse models of myeloid leukemia, which made me become interested in the maturation stages where hematopoietic stem or progenitor cells could become transformed. This interest led me to seek out the normal branchpoints of the hematopoietic hierarchy. Following the identification of the common lymphoid progenitor by Motonari Kondo and Koichi Akashi in the lab, Koichi and I identified the major branchpoints of the myeloid hierarchy. These new tools allowed us to query the stages at which leukemogenesis initiates and to address controversies in lineage affiliations, such as the derivation of different dendritic cell subsets from lymphoid and myeloid origins.
Who was your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?
DT: I have been fortunate to have two outstanding mentors, Irv Weissman and Len Zon. Irv can assess the key issues in any scientific problem and is perhaps the most perseverant person I have known. Len has incredible enthusiasm for science and is amazingly supportive of everyone in his group. I hope that I have picked up some of these traits from them.
How are you helping to mentor new investigators at your lab?
DT: I have always admired Arnold Beckman’s adage, "Hire the best people, and then get out of their way.” I try to do this to some extent, but also realize that most young investigators need some coaching on career development, grantsmanship, and presenting their work. Everyone in my group is encouraged to write numerous fellowship applications, since good grantsmanship is the name of the game in academic science. I also meet with everyone annually for a forward thinking career meeting.Why did you become an Associate Editor for
D.T. I thought the experience would be good for me, and I wanted to do what I
could for the society in increasing the impact of the journal. Keith Humphries,
the Editor-in-Chief, has put together a great international team and has a good
vision of how to make the journal more visible.
There are a lot of interesting aspects of this scientific field; what do you find the most exciting?
DT: Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the stem cell field is how close we are to connecting basic research to powerful clinical applications. This will result in vastly improved cellular therapies over the coming years for a variety of diseases.
What is the most exciting study or project happening at your lab?
DT: I am currently excited by several projects in the lab. We are working to integrate the roles of many different signaling pathways into both a genetic model and spatiotemporal model of how HSCs are specified in the vertebrate embryo. These findings should help move the field forward in the instruction of pluripotent precursors to HSCs in vitro, something that has eluded us for decades.
In addition, we should soon have the means to combine our direct imaging of HSC emergence with single-cell transgene activation. This will enable a level of precision in clonal fate mapping and leukemogenesis approaches not previously possible.Given your experience in the field, how have you seen the field change in the last five years?
DT: Some of the most exciting developments are the marked improvements in whole genome approaches, sophisticated genetic approaches able to query gene function in specific lineages, and the dramatic improvement in live imaging techniques. These are all good examples of new technologies able to drive new scientific breakthroughs.It’s clear that the field is going to continue to evolve at an amazing pace. How do you see it changing over the next five years?
DT: I think that two of the biggest hurdles in the field of HSC biology will be cleared over the next 5-10 years; the instruction of HSC fate from human pluripotent precursors, and ex vivo expansion of human HSCs for transplantation approaches.What do you consider the biggest challenge currently facing the hematology and stem cells scientific field and how can it be managed?
DT: The biggest challenge for our field is the same as for other fields in biological research – keeping good laboratories funded. We need to convince our political leaders to restore the long-term vision in education and research that made this country great.Does your lab have any big studies or projects planned in the near future?
DT: We are working with Thierry Jaffredo, Charles Durand, Pierre Charbord and Karl Willert to compare and contrast the molecules necessary to specify and support HSCs across evolution. Using the zebrafish, chick, and mouse embryo, we are working to determine the conserved core gene regulatory networks required for HSC emergence and subsequent maintenance. I am very excited about these collaborative studies.How would you describe the funding climate for your specific type of research?
DT: The funding climate is difficult but possible – many agencies are interested in regenerative medicine. We are fortunate to have CIRM here in California.What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
Presenting my first talk as a graduate student.What are your...?
Hobbies: Music, hiking, backpacking, cocktails, hanging with my children.
Favorite book(s): The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, the Complete Poems of Stephen Crane.
Favorite movie(s): Lawrence of Arabia, Brazil, Stalker, Down by Law, The English Patient, Wings of Desire, I am Cuba, and The Wire series.
If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
That’s a tough question; there are so many interesting people. Louis Armstrong comes to mind because he was arguably the most important man music has ever known. I’d love to take him to dinner, or better yet, have him take me to his favorite spot.