Postdoc Spotlight—An Elevated Experience in the Rocky Mountains

Moses Leavens, Ph.D.,
Postdoc in the TSE/Prion Biochemistry Section of the NIAID Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases (LPVD)

Moses Leavens, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher in the TSE/Prion Biochemistry Section of the Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases (LPVD) at NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML). Aside from science, Moses volunteers his time with Native American students, teaching STEM and financial education. 

What is the focus of your research?

The work we do in the TSE/Prion Biochemistry Section is focused on developing diagnostic tests for specific types of dementia and movement disorders. We take advantage of the real-time quaking-induced interconversion (RT-QuIC) platform—historically used to diagnose people with prion diseases—and we are expanding this platform to other types of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s). It is expected, as people continue to live longer, that there will be greater societal need for these tests and the ability to use them to develop novel therapeutics and monitor treatment progression. 

Why did you choose to do postdoctoral training at RML?

I grew up in Montana and have a daughter here, so it was important after earning my Ph.D. that I remain close to family. I like to think of myself as an avid outdoorsman and Montana is a great place for that. In graduate school, I studied non-random structure in protein denatured states—locating the primary structure in a denatured chain of significance and understanding how this piece of primary structure may bias a fold. It made sense for my postdoctoral training to continue on the trajectory of studying protein folding and applying this knowledge to manipulate recombinant proteins for neurodegenerative disease diagnostic tests. 

What is unique about being a postdoc at RML?

RML is a close-knit community—most people know one another and what we study. I enjoy the RML campus with the backdrop of the Bitterroot mountains. The environment is small but the science is big; our research has enormous potential to help people afflicted with neurodegenerative disorders. I appreciate that RML hosts some of NIAID’s core facilities, such as the Electron Microscopy Unit, which helps move our research forward faster by being on campus. The Visual and Medical Arts Unit is also excellent at producing images for publications, making communicating our research and manuscript writing easier and more accessible. 

What are your plans after your postdoc?

I am in the exploration stage right now and open to many possibilities—academia, non-profit work, government, or perhaps entrepreneurship. I love teaching science and enjoy scientific writing. Based on my experience in science education, we need to do a better job of teaching science to younger generations in schools, with a focus on cultivating creativity and innovation—perhaps more lab experience for younger STEM students and fewer lectures. I am an advocate for STEM education in general and for getting people from all backgrounds involved, especially those who are currently underrepresented in STEM. I am hopeful that as more groups of people underrepresented in STEM pursue careers in scientific research, our science will improve with respect to innovation. 

Overall, I am excited about the future and the potential our work has for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes for those afflicted with neurodegenerative diseases.

Learn more about postdoctoral research training opportunities at NIAID.
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