MSTP Office Hours: Dr. Gary Landreth, PhD
Dr. Landreth joined IU in 2017 as a professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology and the associate director of education at the Stark Neuroscience Research Institute. Shortly after coming to IU, Dr. Landreth also took on the role of director of the Medical Neuroscience graduate program. Once he gained this title, Dr. Landreth worked non-stop to recruit new students to the Med Neuro program.
“My goal is to develop a first tier, nationally competitive graduate program in the neurosciences.”
Before joining IU faculty, Dr. Landreth had a storied career in neuroscience research. For 20 years, he studied autism, but is best known for his work in Alzheimer’s disease. He’s worked specifically with the brain’s inflammatory response via microglia in the Alzheimer patient’s brain. Besides his research illuminating Alzheimer’s and autism, Dr. Landreth is also interested in generating new medicines for Alzheimer’s disease. His focus on drug discovery has lead him to oversee clinical trials and pharmaceutical advances.
Alongside his productive research lab, Dr. Landreth is deeply committed to graduate education. Having trained 31 students in his career, 10 of which have been MD/PhD’s, he is very familiar with the role of a mentor. Upon coming to IU, Dr. Landreth threw himself into student recruitment and outreach for the Med Neuro program. This is because, he said, “in order to build and grow the Stark Institute, we need a talented cohort of graduate students to populate Stark laboratories.”
Med Neuro Changes
Considering the number of Med Neuro graduate students has significantly increased since his arrival, with the MSTP population growing nine-fold, it is safe to say that his dedication payed off. I first met Dr. Landreth at a MSTP poster session, where he was quickly gaining fame as “the excited Med Neuro professor.” Dr. Landreth was passionate about the Med Neuro program and was determined to hear students out and make it clear that he cared about them and wanted them in his program.
He eagerly gathered students interested in Med Neuro and asked outright what they wanted from the program and what he could do to bring them on board. Based on these interviews, Dr. Landreth worked to restructure the Med Neuro program to attract MD/PhD students. This restructuring is a work in progress, but a fast one. In under a year, Dr. Landreth has created a new curriculum, reduced barriers for training MD/PhD’s, and created a healthy environment for collaboration and productivity. These changes have resulted in a significantly advanced program with a renewed interest in advancing research.
Not only did Dr. Landreth aim to grow the program, but also to shift its focus to more translational science. By leveraging the translational opportunities afforded at IU School of Medicine, Dr. Landreth plans to improve bench to bedside research at Stark. This has resulted in producing an open and more supportive for research and a better-rounded program for all graduate students.
“One of the central goals is to create an atmosphere conducive to doing great science collaboratively,” Dr. Landreth says.
Translational Science Today
Considering his efforts to direct Stark research toward translational science, Dr. Landreth has a clear interest in the field. He points out that it is only through scientific advances that certain medical fields, such as neurology, can advance patient care. “Many diseases have experienced little or no progress. This challenge reflects the complexity of the brain and its diverse functions,” he says, referring to the neurological field.
Dr. Landreth muses, MD/PhD’s will be at the forefront of bringing therapies into the clinic. This is not always the case, as in reality these breakthroughs come from individuals across a variety of fields. Regardless of your training, science is hard and success is rare. Therefore, students need to have the ability to navigate science and its developments while having a sense of its clinical applications.
Physician Scientists Today
Dr. Landreth points out that physician scientists have the stated goal of engineering new therapies in lab. This is a difficult goal to achieve, and these students require a great deal of support to succeed. He states, “The important thing is to have inquisitive trained scientists engage in clinical research”. Bringing these clinical questions and perspectives into a lab is the main prerogative of physician scientists. Physician scientists play critical roles through their perspective on the scientific that advancements of the lab as it relates to innovation of treatment options in the clinic.
As well as their different outlook on medical science, physician scientists also face significant challenges. Notably, Dr. Landreth points out the trouble with certain animal models in elucidating pathologies. Fortunately, MD/PhD’s are able to see the shortcomings of the animal models and address them directly through patient involvement. Particularly important to bridging the model gap are places like Stark, where proximity to the local hospital is perfect for keeping research models and patients connected. “Lots of people argue that they do translational work, but this place really does it,” Dr. Landreth says with pride. “It’s well designed and well thought out.”
Words of Wisdom
Similar to his recruiting tactics, Dr. Landreth’s advice for incoming and outgoing students is clear and to the point: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, you get to do science all day every day. We are engaged in the most exciting questions you can imagine. The limit of exploration is our capacity to formulate a hypothesis and explore it at the bench.”
“If you aren’t excited about this, you’re in the wrong business.”
Dr. Landreth hopes to inspire the same enthusiasm for science that he has displayed throughout my experience with him. He aims to empower his students and deepen their understanding and questions in their field. Ideally, Dr. Landreth wants to send students out empowered and animated about the science they will pursue.
“Come in motivated about science, and hopefully you’ll have solved some problems by the time you get out and you’ll be ready for the next set of questions.”