McArdle Blog ~ 2/3/2015

Alumni Profiles

ALUMNI PROFILE: DAVID VEREIDE '09

David Vereide received his PhD in Cancer Biology in 2009 under the mentorship of Bill Sugden, Professor of Oncology at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research. He went on to do a post-doc with Jamie Thomson, the Director of Regenerative Biology at the Morgridge Institute for Research, an independent research institute closely affiliated with UW-Madison. Vereide is now a Morgridge Fellow, a prestigious independent position at the Morgridge Institute for a scientist embarking on his or her research career.

But Vereide – or Dave as he likes to be called – might have just as easily ended up as a fellow with Merrill-Lynch – the financial investment company – instead of with the Morgridge Institute.      

Dave VereideAs an undergraduate student at a community college in Haines, Alaska, Dave had started off as a business major.

“Fortunately I had a friend who was taking a microbiology class adjacent to where I had my business mathematics class,” he says.

Dave would pepper his friend with questions about the microbiology class. One day his friend grew tired of the incessant badgering. “Why on earth are you taking a business class?” Dave remembers his exasperated friend asking. The proverbial light bulb twinkled on in Dave’s mind and he switched majors to biology, ultimately graduating from the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

But a career in research was still not in the cards. “I was convinced I wanted to go to medical school,” Dave explains.

But at an admissions interview at the University of Washington Medical School, “while sitting at a table with two MDs and a medical student,” he realized it wasn’t medicine that fascinated him but the science behind it.

When Dave returned to Anchorage he talked to one of his professors, Jocelyn Krebs, who had been searching for a research assistant to join her molecular biology laboratory. “I joined her lab and within a week I was hooked!” says Dave.

Graduate school beckoned and Dave applied to universities all across the country. But as soon as he had his interview with Bill Sugden at McArdle he knew where we wanted to go to continue his education.

“I went into his tiny office” recollects Dave of his interview with Sugden, “and we talked about the challenges of doing science and the agony of failures. But we also talked about how the truth is out there, and you can mine it, and discover it and build on it. I realized I wanted to be a scientist just like him!”

But the transition from the small, quaint, ex-farming towns of Palmer and Wasilla, Alaska was anything but easy for Dave; it was his first time being outside the state, away from a close-knit extended family.

“I got here and I was just…shrouded in terror” says Dave, although he can chuckle about it now. “There was a gas station near where I first lived and I would call up my parents EVERY NIGHT from this gas station until I bought my first cell phone.”

Sugden LabBut soon the ebb and flow of life in Madison became comforting. “What you realize is the people you first meet become your family and your graduate lab is your family.”

And Dave thrived in the collaborative and collegial atmosphere that pervades the community in McArdle Laboratory. “I think the best part of the Cancer Biology program was the personalized education” says Dave. “It does a terrific job identifying your strengths and weaknesses and then putting a plan in place to maximize your potential as a scientist.”

While a graduate student at McArdle Dave worked on several different projects trying to understand interactions between the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) and the cells it infects.

But whether he was trying to determine how a key EBV protein called EBNA1 associated with the DNA of infected cells or discern what advantages EBV provided infected tumor cells, his advisor Bill Sugden remembers him as a student who was a pleasure to work with.

“It was obvious when Dave joined the lab he was already experimentally very independent”, says Sugden. Beyond his obvious technical expertise Sugden was also impressed with “Dave’s absolute commitment to pursue questions he was interested in.”

After defending his PhD Vereide got a post-doctoral offer he couldn’t refuse from Jamie Thomson, a prominent stem cell biologist well known for his work on stem cell research.

“It [being a post-doc in the Thomson lab] was such an incredible opportunity for me. Here was someone who is world-renowned and has fantastic scientists surrounding him and great resources” explains Vereide. “I still pinch myself over it!”

While a post-doc in the Thomson lab Dave tried to expand upon our understanding of how the different cells in our blood are made in our bodies (hematopoeisis) and also how our blood vessels are formed (vasculogenesis).

And this work has carried over into his current research as a Morgridge Fellow, which is a “transition-to-independence position,” according to Dave. “I’m given PI status, but function underneath Jamie as part of the Regenerative Biology group” he explains. “I guess you could call it "mentored independence.”
As a Morgridge Fellow Dave is fascinated by how human embryonic stem cells are essentially immortal. “Given the appropriate culture conditions they can self-renew indefinitely” explains Dave.

He is exploring how to transfer this immortality to other cell types to further both our understanding of basic biological processes like aging and find treatments for degenerative diseases.

“I am deeply curious about the fundamental nature of stem cells and progenitor cells” says Vereide, explaining one of the two major motivations that drive his work. “The models out there right now to try to explain aging and disease, I find deeply unsatisfying.”

In addition to a deep and abiding desire to understand how we repair or rejuvenate ourselves, Dave is driven by a desire to have an impact on human health. But “when you look through medical history and the great cures that have been discovered there’s a tremendous amount of serendipity.”

And this is the delicate balancing act that Dave is striving to perfect. “If I don’t allow that curiosity side of me to be given flight then I may not come up with the best therapy” he says.

This desire to truly understand a part of the world around him and use that knowledge – if possible – to help others encapsulates Dave as a scientist and as an individual.

“It is not dreams of glory that drive him” says Sugden, “Dave wants to understand a problem because he is interested in it and he will do so, come hell or high water!”

 

~Rup Chakravorty