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Staff Spotlight: Stuart Sundseth

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

As a research technician within the lab of Carol Colton, PhD, Stuart Sundseth is following in the footsteps of his father, who worked with Allen Roses, MD, to run clinical trials on Alzheimer’s disease, and his mother, a biochemist specializing in grant-writing. For this week’s “Staff Spotlight” interview, Sundseth talks to us about his work performing experiments, analyzing data, and helping undergraduate students overlaps and differs from the work of his parents. He also discusses why he enjoys the ever-changing nature of his work and enjoying skiing and cooking in his spare time.

What are your responsibilities in the Neurology Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am a lab tech in Dr. Colton’s research lab in the Bryan building. Most of the time, no two days are the same as there is always something new happening. Some of the things I do the most are cell culture experiments, immunoassays, and qPCR. I also spend time analyzing data and putting it into a presentable format, as well as helping undergraduate students with their projects.

What projects are you working on at the moment? How will the end results help us better understand Alzheimer’s disease?
We have been working on developing new mouse models for Alzheimer’s disease including a model of sporadic AD. Currently, the most widely used models are based on genes associated with familial AD, like APP, and not sporadic AD even though sporadic AD is by far the most common form of the disease. The models of familial AD have great amyloid plaques which is a hallmark of the disease, but are lacking in other aspects such as Tau pathology. We hope to create a model using genes associated with sporadic AD, like ApoE, so that researchers can better study the underlying causes of AD and have a more accurate model to test treatments on.

Your father worked in at Zinfandel Pharmaceuticals, a private company created by Allen Roses, MD. How does his work compare to yours? Did having a father with interests in Alzheimer’s research make working in the field more or less enticing for you?
It’s my understanding that my father helps pharmaceutical companies run clinical trials on drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease so while we both may be trying to treat or cure Alzheimer’s, his day to day is very different from mine. Both he and my mother are scientists so I think they definitely influenced my decision to pursue a similar career.

What scientific work does your mother do? In what ways does her work overlap (or differ from) with yours?
My mother is a biochemist and has worked for various pharmaceutical companies over the course of her career. Currently she works at a CRO in the area and specializes in writing research grants. As far as I know she has not worked on any projects involving AD. Both of my parents have not set foot in a lab for a long time so our work is very different on a day to day basis but it’s fun to tell them about what I am doing and see their amazement at how much easier some of the lab techniques are today.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy the fact that the direction of the research is always changing. At a different job, I could be stuck running the same assays every day for years, but here we are always changing what we are looking for as new results come in. It keeps things fresh and interesting.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
I would say the hardest part is not getting frustrated when things don’t work out the way you wanted them to. When your initial hypothesis is not supported by your results, or a certain experiment just won’t work, it can be disheartening. On the other hand, when things do work out, it can be pretty exciting.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I like to go skiing in the winter, I learned how to ski as a kid and have loved it ever since. I also play a lot of soccer as well as video games on my PC. Cooking has always been a hobby of mine too, it’s kind of similar to lab work in that you follow an established protocol and measure and mix things with a bunch of specialized tools. You can even keep a cooking lab notebook to improve your recipes. It’s a good way to relax and have fun but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the eating part that comes after the cooking.