Tom Hurley, PhD, is the new associate dean for research and graduate studies at Indiana University School of Medicine, home to a combined total of nearly 600 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
Dr. Hurley is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and interim-chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at IU School of Medicine, a Chancellor’s Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and a leader of the IU Precision Health Initiative. He earned a PhD in biochemistry from IU and completed postdoctoral training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He joined the IU School of Medicine faculty in 1992.
In his role as an associate dean, Dr. Hurley, who began his new duties Sept. 1, will lead the school’s graduate and postdoctoral training programs, including the Graduate Division. Read on to learn more about Dr. Hurley and his vision for IU School of Medicine research and graduate studies.
Q: What inspired you to pursue biomedical research as a career, and what do you find most interesting or rewarding about it?
Dr. Hurley: I spent the summer between my junior and senior year in college conducting research. I found that it was one of the few things I was so interested in and committed to that I would lose track of time and work well past what was required. I still find that uncovering the basic principles by which biological processes function is fascinating and gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
Q: What research projects are you currently working on?
A: My laboratory works on two very different biological problems, but the methods applied are similar. We investigate how the three-dimensional structure of enzymes dictate their function and apply that knowledge to the discovery and development of drug-like molecules that can be used to alter their function in situations where their actions contribute to diseases. My research is necessarily collaborative and I have excellent collaborators, both here at IU with Drs. Peter Roach and Anna DePaoli-Roach and at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University. The broad areas of research are related to excess glycogen accumulation seen with in-born errors of glucose metabolism and, separately, the contributions of aldehyde dehydrogenases to the ability of cancer initiating cells to survive chemotherapies and re-initiate tumor formation.
We hope that our discoveries and the development of our new chemical tools will uncover new therapies for glycogen storage diseases and, separately, explain why some cancer-initiating cells survive chemotherapy and lead to tumor recurrence. If we can block this ability, we can increase the effectiveness of the initial chemotherapy and improve long-term survival rates.
Q: You graduated with a PhD from IU School of Medicine. What is it like to now lead the program that helped train you, and what are you most looking forward to about your new role as associate dean for research and graduate studies?
A: I’ve had a unique career path at IU School of Medicine, where I became not only a faculty member within the department from which I received my PhD, but also the interim-chair. Two of the department’s current faculty—Drs. Roach and Edenberg—were on my thesis committee. However, what I truly enjoy about IU is that I was always welcomed by the faculty and I have benefited from the excellent mentoring provided by a group of faculty that includes both Drs. Roach and Edenberg. I can never thank all the mentors with which I’ve interacted enough for their commitment to faculty development. I hope that I have been able to pass it on to others and now see an excellent opportunity to pay that experience forward with an even larger group of mentees.
Q: How do you plan to engage IU School of Medicine graduate students and postdocs in biomedical research?
A: I wish to thank Randy Brutkiewicz and the past associate deans of the Graduate Division for creating an effective program that strongly advocates for our trainees. My work will be made infinitely easier through their dedication to the graduate and post-doctoral trainees within the school.
A research university is simultaneously supportive of and supported by a vigorous, dedicated and diverse group of graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. My goal is to fully support both the mentors and trainees that are served by the Graduate Division and create a welcoming and engaging environment that allows the research at IU School of Medicine to thrive. I welcome the opportunity to sit down with the current trainees and faculty mentors within the individual graduate programs and work with them to improve the Graduate Division so that we can take the research and training programs here at the school to new heights.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring medical researchers?
A: I’m always drawn to paraphrasing President Teddy Roosevelt: “Nothing worth doing is easy.” There are no easy paths, but—for me—the rewards have always outweighed the sacrifices.
Q: When you’re not working, what are some of your favorite ways to take a break from the lab?
A: I enjoy biking and still occasionally ride to and from campus when my schedule permits. Tennis is another hobby and provides a competitive format that allows me to move my focus away from work. Lastly, I enjoy camping and hiking with my family. It’s a great way to relax, disconnect from work, connect with family and enjoy nature.