Postbac Spotlight—Infectious Disease Research for Global Health

Kyle Landers, postbac in the Collaborative Clinical Research Branch (CCRB) of the Division of Clinical Research.

Credit: NIAID

Kyle Landers is a postbac in the Collaborative Clinical Research Branch (CCRB) of the Division of Clinical Research (DCR) where he works under the supervision of Aaron Neal, D.Phil. Kyle details his unique experience working with scientific partners in Indonesia to address infectious disease challenges of global concern. Read about Kyle’s experience at NIAID and his next steps.

Tell me about your research and how it contributes to the NIAID mission.

Over the past year, I have contributed directly to NIAID’s goal of building clinical research capacity domestically and internationally so that a timely research response can occur when an emerging infectious disease becomes a threat. In early January 2021, when COVID-19 variants were becoming of great concern, I worked with DCR’s partners in the Indonesian Ministry of Health to develop primers and a protocol to sequence the SARS-CoV-2 complete S-gene from patient samples in order to track variants in the population and identify any novel strains through changes in the virus’s DNA. This is of utmost importance, as novel variants can potentially decrease the efficacy of current vaccines and treatments, possibly setting the world two steps back from overcoming this pandemic. With the capacity to perform S-gene sequencing, our partners in Indonesia can not only advise on their country’s public health response, but they can also contribute to international efforts to track and stop the virus. It’s incredible to see that my work at NIAID with our Indonesian partners is impacting COVID-19 in one of the most populated countries in the world. 

What inspired you to do a postbac at NIAID?

As an aspiring physician-scientist, my interest in NIAID was twofold—to gain experience with clinical research and to further explore the dynamics between immunology and pathogens. During my undergraduate studies, I worked in a yeast lab conducting basic research that focused on understanding how a class of chemotherapeutics interacts with the target enzyme to cause cellular death. This experience put my undergraduate coursework into context; however, I felt there was a gap in translating and applying my knowledge to medicine. At the same time, I became fascinated with the immune system and pathogens, and my postbac appointment has allowed me to extensively explore both.

What have you enjoyed most about being a postbac?

I really enjoyed all the opportunities provided by the NIAID training office. As an undergraduate, I had tunnel vision on reaching my next step and did not always take time to attend seminars or workshops. However, the past year of attending NIAID’s and the NIH Office of Training and Education (OITE)’s postbac events has been extremely beneficial for my professional and personal development. While working remotely, these events have been a wonderful way to socialize with my peers and other researchers—something I haven’t gotten a lot of during the COVID-19 pandemic! 

Explain your experience as part of a collaborative team. Do you think your postbac with CCRB was unique from other postbac positions?

My postbac experience was unique in that I do not have a singular project or a singular lab—instead, I work with a team of diverse experts on several infectious disease clinical research studies half a world away in Indonesia. Though I have not gained in-depth expertise with one disease, I have been able to obtain a wide breadth of knowledge on various pathogens and the impact they have within Indonesia. If we weren’t in an ongoing pandemic, my position would have potentially given me the chance to travel to Indonesia and work with our partners directly in the field. 

What are your future plans and how has your postbac prepared you?

I will be returning to my alma mater, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, as an M.D./Ph.D. candidate this fall. My time at NIH and NIAID has reinforced my passion to become a physician-scientist. This experience inspired me to pursue a career in infectious disease medicine or pathology with a broader focus on global health. 

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