July 01, 2014

Adam S. Lauring, MD, PhD: Physician-scientist, instructor, outdoorsman

Adam S. Lauring, MD, PhD
What do you do at UMHS?

I spend about three-quarters of my time doing basic and translational research on RNA virus evolution. I do some of the actual work myself, but much of my time is spent teaching and training technicians, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the laboratory. As a physician-scientist, I also spend a little over a month each year taking care of patients in the hospital with a variety of infectious diseases. Finally, I teach virology to medical students and graduate students in the classroom throughout the year.

Why is this interesting to you?

RNA viruses are fascinating because they are “masters of evolution.” Because they mutate and adapt to new environments so rapidly, one can follow evolution over the course of days or weeks as opposed to millennia. We hope that by understanding this process, we can design vaccines that are more long-lasting and antiviral drugs that are “resistance-proof.”

When you’re not working, what do you do?

I try to protect my evenings and weekends to spend time with my wife, 5-year-old son, and 3-year-old daughter. We enjoy hiking and exploring nature. I also enjoy bicycling and reading non-fiction.

What moment in the lab/classroom/ clinic stands out as the most memorable?

There are many, but the most recent occurred when my technician brought me data suggesting that one of our hypotheses about RNA virus mutation rates was correct. After spending so much time thinking about a model and designing the right experiment to test it, it is really exciting to see that you might actually be right and have discovered something.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

My graduate mentor, Julie Overbaugh, Ph.D., at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. While she is a researcher and not a clinician, she showed me how science and medicine could inform each other. She also excelled at maintaining a work-life balance and still serves as my mentor and role model.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Try to find the location and environment where you think you’ll be the happiest. That’s where you’ll do your best work.

What are you currently reading?

I read The New Yorker pretty religiously. Every week I learn something new, and the articles are just short enough that I can read one from start to finish before falling asleep.

What’s the most thrilling or adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

When I was a graduate student in Seattle, I took up mountaineering and climbed several glaciated peaks. There is nothing quite like setting off for the summit at 3 a.m. and watching the sunrise over a glacier. As part of a course, I was able to spend time deep in a crevasse prior to being “rescued” by my classmates.

What keeps you up at night?

 The aforementioned kids — enough said.