GMS Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Richard Giadone

Dr. Richard Giadone received his PhD in Molecular and Translational Medicine from Graduate Medical Sciences in May of 2020. He currently works with SARS-CoV-2 testing in the Murphy Lab in the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM).

Q: Why did you choose to study molecular and translational medicine?

A lot of people say that when they were young, they had no idea what they’d end up doing for their careers. What’s strange about me though, is that from a very young age, I knew I wanted to do science. In fact, my mom sent my preschool yearbook to me on the day of what would have been my graduation from BUSM, and in it I wrote, “When I grow up I want to be a scientist.” All of this is to say that I was bit by the science bug at a really young age and have been on this trajectory right to today, for better or worse. 

When I reached undergrad at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, I had the same thought many biology students do, “Do I want to go to medical school? Do I want to be a physician?” To help answer that question, I became an emergency medical technician (EMT) for a little bit, and quickly realized it was not for me. At the same time, I started working in a lab there, and fell in love with research – specifically developmental and stem cell biology, which is what eventually led me to BU and the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM), in particular.

Q: Can you talk about your current work in SARS-CoV-2 testing?

In the months leading up to their thesis defense, PhD students work on writing their theses, which ends up being somewhere around 200 pages that sort of summarizes everything they’ve done in lab for the past four-plus years. In my case, the day I handed my thesis in to my committee, my direct supervisor, Dr. George Murphy, contacted me at about four o’clock in the morning and said, “I know you have to study for your thesis defense and everything, but we need to help Boston Medical Center (BMC) develop in-house COVID testing.” 

A big issue early on in the pandemic, as the state was slowly climbing this upward slope of the roller coaster nervously waiting for infection of the virus to peak, many hospitals needed to rely on commercial labs for their diagnostic testing. Problematically though, there were massive backlogs – often having turnaround times of something like seven to 10 days. George and the rest of our lab wanted to help fill the urgent need for testing and keep up with demands until larger throughput, automated testing platforms were up and running in BMC’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. So, in the two weeks preceding my thesis defense, we worked around the clock in the lab to set up our own BMC-CReM COVID testing platform.

I was very proud that on the day of my thesis defense we went live and started testing patient samples at BMC. After that, we successfully kept up with all the demand until we eventually slowed down our efforts and the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine on campus got their platforms up and running.

Q: What are some of the challenges that came up?

By far, the biggest hurdle none of us expected was the emotional toll of testing. Typically, as scientists, we get super wrapped up in our work and our projects. We dedicate years to focusing on one singular problem; we’ll stay super late in the lab to get something to work, and if an experiment doesn’t work we can often take it pretty personally. When COVID testing was ongoing however, we now were faced with running laboratory assays that might directly impact how a patient is cared for or how a physician might budget out their personal protective equipment. This was constantly in the back of our minds. 

At the same time, we all considered ourselves as being at high risk for infection, so many of us chose to self-isolate. It was basically this high pressure environment where we were only seeing each other and the inside of the lab for weeks on end. 

Q: Why did you choose to attend GMS?

Going into grad school, I more or less knew that I wanted to study some aspect of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Despite that however, I wanted to pick a program that would allow me to explore different research options. BUSM’s umbrella program, the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS), afforded me this variety. In your first year, you rotate in labs for eight to 10 weeks to try and find your best fit. Since I wanted to explore different types of research, I rotated in a lab that specializes in blood development, a zebrafish group, and George Murphy’s lab. 

Moreover, GMS and really the Boston community as a whole, are really rich places to do science. There’s so much high-energy and collaboration that’s going on.

Q: You’re a first-gen college student. Can you talk a little bit about what that means to you?

A really big thing that drives my goals and ambitions is being able to give back to all the things that have helped me. I’m often thinking to myself, “How can I help students who are coming up through the pipeline just as I did?”

There’s so much inequality in STEM and academia and unfortunately, a lot of discussion attempting to fix these issues frankly put, just fall short. While people typically focus on the end product – what comes out of the pipeline, they totally neglect the huge leaks in the pipe very early on. There is so much massive inequity in access to training opportunities and STEM awareness; many kids don’t even know this pipeline even exists. 

I love science, I want to be a professor, and I want to run my own research lab. At the same time, a big focus of mine will be service and outreach. 

Q: Do you have any advice for GMS students who want to take a similar path as you?

I think a big thing is to be open minded about everything, ask questions, and think about what interests you and what problems you want to solve. Be willing to reach out and talk to people, ask about their work, and tell them about your own work. I think that’s really the best way to take advantage of this extremely rich place to do science. 

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

One thing I think everyone should know about is the philosophy of open source biology. The CReM is really big on this aspect of sharing equipment, knowledge, protocols etc. around the world without exclusivity. This really drives fast-moving research and just adds to the friendliness and fun aspects of science. 

In the time of COVID for example, all of these papers that have been rapidly coming out, about the actual virus itself and how cells respond to the virus for example, are all largely enabled by open source biology. I personally have shared the protocols for our diagnostic test with people all over the world – from throughout the US and Canada to places like Argentina and Dubai.