Dr. David Stachura, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Chico. He has been working in the hematology and stem cells scientific field for 11 years and joined ISEH in 2008. His area of expertise is zebrafish and murine developmental hematopoiesis and developing in vitro assays to study hematopoietic progenitors. Dr. Stachura kindly accepted Connection's invitation to participate in a Q&A session. Below he shares with us his path to a tenure position, his love for teaching, the reasons behind his lab's facebook page and his concern about the low level of funding for medical research in the US.
Please tell us about your graduate and post-graduate education.
I received my Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, working in the laboratory of Dr. Mitchell Weiss. My research was focused on devising assays to study the differentiation of murine megakaryocyte-erythroid progenitors (MEPs). After graduating, I joined the laboratory of Dr. David Traver at the University of California San Diego to study zebrafish hematopoiesis and develop assays to more carefully interrogate zebrafish hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs).
How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
I first became interested in hematopoiesis when I saw a talk that my graduate mentor gave at Penn. I had worked on microtubule dynamics before that, and was utterly fascinated by the idea that one cell (the hematopoietic stem cell; HSC) could generate the multitude of blood cells needed by an organism for its whole life. I instantly was interested in discovering how these cells functioned.
Who has most influenced you to become a scientist, and how did they influence you?
Ever since I was a child I wanted to be a scientist. My parents were teachers, and we were always camping, exploring, and learning about biological phenomena when I was a kid. The person that helped me realize that I could be a scientist (as a career) was Dr. Lynne Cassimeris at Lehigh University. I worked in her laboratory as an undergraduate researcher studying cell fusion; after that I was hooked, and applied to graduate school.
Who is your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?
I would say that both my graduate and postdoctoral mentors helped me in different ways. Dr. Weiss taught me how to perform and interpret all the classic hematology experiments, which was useful for my creation of in vitro assays. Dr. Traver helped me a lot with my writing, grantsmanship, and really seeing science as a collaborative enterprise. I realize now how important it is to be a part of a community, which allows all of us to move the field forward. Importantly, they both taught me how to look at the “big picture,” and how to keep working hard to achieve success in science.
What is the overall aim of your research? What are you working on most intensely right now?
The overall aim of my research is to understand the signaling processes involved in regulating hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC) proliferation, differentiation, and dysregulation. I have a few projects going on right now, but one of them involves interrogating the transcript expression of novel, hematopoietic-supportive zebrafish cell lines that I have created. I’m interested in understanding what types of cytokines are produced by these cell lines, and what this can inform us about the evolution of vertebrate hematopoiesis.
What is the most exciting or intriguing result you’ve gotten so far?
We have found several intriguing things. We observed that these cell lines we created from different sites of hematopoiesis in the zebrafish and have different capabilities in terms of HSPC proliferation and differentiation. And, we have found some duplicated cytokines in the zebrafish genome that have different effects than their mammalian paralogues. Now, the challenge is to figure out what signaling pathways are affected by these cytokines, with the hope of modulating them to treat hematopoietic disorders.
What's the biggest challenge you've ever faced in your research?
I like to think that research in itself is a challenge. I mean, we’re asking questions that no one knows the answer to; to answer these fundamental scientific issues under financial and time constraints is always a challenge. But, that’s why I love science- if it were easy I would do something else!
There are a lot of interesting aspects of this scientific field; what do you find the most exciting?
To me, being able to create, expand, and alter HSPCs to treat hematopoietic and immune deficiencies is super exciting. Also, the ability to utilize the immune system to fight off cancer is a really cool idea; I’m glad these studies are moving forward. The amount of information we have learned about the immune system over the past 60-70 years is staggering, and with the advent of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology, I expect that true personalized medicine to treat a multitude of hematopoietic and immune disease is where the field will continue to go.
Instead of an academic career, did you consider a career in industry and why?
I did. I really enjoy the idea of using my research to help people, and the pharmaceutical industry certainly does that by creating therapeutics. However, I really enjoy teaching and mentoring others; I feel like creating well-trained, intelligent, critical thinking students is an essential contribution that I can make to the scientific community.
What was the process that you had to follow to become an independent investigator?
It’s been tough- that’s what I tell all the students that I work with. The funding for research in the US has been reduced, there are lots of people with advanced degrees, and there simply aren’t enough PI positions to accommodate everyone. My process was likely very similar to others in the field; attend grad school, do a post-doc, and search for jobs. While that sounds simple, it isn’t. You really need to publish results, carve out a niche for yourself research-wise, work and collaborate well with others, and be prepared for a fairly long process. I’m not a very patient person, so the process of sending out job applications, waiting months to hear back (or not) from potential employers, interviewing and accepting a position, making sure your spouse can find a job, moving, and then starting your new job months later was somewhat daunting to me. I really just want to be getting research done!
Why did you choose to work at CSU-Chico?
I chose to join the faculty of CSU, Chico for a few reasons. First, I really wanted to have more of a role in teaching students in the classroom; I like teaching and I feel like I can have a positive role in mentoring young scientists. CSU, Chico also has an interesting approach to teaching biology; all faculty integrate their research into the classroom. Right now I have a bioinformatics project, an in vitro drug screen, and a collaboration with a talented professor in the Chemistry department to develop medicinal chemical compounds all being performed by students, in the classroom! I am a firm believer that students need to be involved in these active learning techniques in order to learn science. And, I realized that at large research-oriented institutions there are no real expectations to do this; I saw lots of students graduating with degrees in biology that have no experience performing laboratory experimentation. This isn’t the case at CSU, Chico- every biology class has a lab associated with it. I also really enjoy working with a very diverse group of faculty; we have such a great mix of different people here that study a wide range of topics in the biological sciences. And, the students really want to be here- they love the town and they love working in the laboratory; it’s refreshing! Finally, Chico is a great place to live. I admit that I didn’t know much about it before I moved to California, but it is a great, small college town, and the campus really feels like a diverse liberal-arts college.
Your lab has a facebook page with 137 likes. Who manages/contributes to the Facebook page?
It’s just me that manages the page.
Why you think that it is important to have a Facebook page for the lab?
I really think engaging students with social media is essential; this is how students communicate with each other, and it allows them to fell like they have involvement in the research studies. Facebook allows everyone to see the page and contribute if they are interested. It’s a great tool to keep in touch with my other colleagues that have Facebook pages, too.
Who do you think follows the website? Do you have a number of "likes" that you would like to reach?
Right now it’s a lot of friends and colleagues. But, our department has a Facebook page that follows my page along with our biology honor society. I’m hoping more students get involved over time, but I don’t have a specific numerical goal that I’m shooting for.
Your lab's Facebook page has several articles on funding for medical research in the US. Please explain how the current funding situation affects your lab.
I think it’s a huge issue for everyone with federal grant support. It affects my students, our institution, and me. In the US, spending for medical research has been declining for some time. If we had more money, I could definitely involve more students and get more research done more efficiently.
Do you have any advice to the federal government on how to increase funding?
I think we need to primarily increase the budgets for the NIH and NSF. There are clearly other problems in terms of supporting academic research, but we really need to spend more money. Everyone would benefit from this- importantly, students will be better trained and prepared for scientific jobs, which we also need more of.
What are the successful milestones that you hope to write on your lab's facebook page?
I’ll be excited to post some manuscripts getting published, grants getting funded, and students graduating!
What general advice would you give a young person considering a career in science?
Most importantly, make sure a career in science is what you want to do. You have to love it! Then, come up with a goal, stick with it, and work hard. If you want to be a teacher, start teaching. If you just want to work in a lab, then focus on your research. Whatever you do, do it the best of your abilities!
How were you introduced to ISEH?
My postdoctoral mentor, Dr. Traver, first introduced me to ISEH. And, I’m glad he did!
Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
I attend the meetings to meet new people, catch up with old friends and colleagues, and also to learn about the new advancements in the field of hematology and stem cells.
What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
I still remember the reception that we had at the Melbourne aquarium in 2010- that was a lot of fun. And, I remember the great boat cruise in Amsterdam 2012. I’m looking forward to making more great memories at ISEH meetings!
What do you find most valuable about ISEH?
I love that the meetings are small, everyone is friendly, and that you can talk and collaborate with people that are experts in the field. It’s not like the huge clinical conferences where I feel like I have to work super hard to interact with people.
Which advice do you have for young investigators that want to get involved in ISEH?
Just do it! Everyone is friendly, helpful, and wants you to succeed.