Lisa Abernathy Close is from Dearborn, Michigan. After completing her B.S in Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University, she worked as a Research Technician in the laboratory of Raymond Yung here at Michigan. She went on to join Gali Hillman’s lab at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit and earn a PhD in Immunology & Microbiology from Wayne State University School of Medicine. For her graduate work, she studied the immunology of radiation-induced lung injury using a mouse model. Following graduation, she moved her research focus to the gut and spent two years in the laboratory of David Boone at Indiana University School of Medicine characterizing a novel model of innate immune-mediated colitis. Lisa is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Vincent Young’s lab studying host-microbe interactions in inflammatory bowel disease and C. difficile infection.
Tell us more about why you identify as patient scientist.
I have a Ph.D. in Immunology & Microbiology and I am currently a postdoctoral fellow studying inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal infections, and mucosal immunology. I self-identified as a scientist long before I was labeled as a “patient”. I proudly displayed my high school biology-grade laboratory set that I received for my 8th birthday on a floor to ceiling bookshelf in my bedroom, before I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 9. Three years later, I had a partial colectomy that left me with an ileostomy. I currently live with a permanent ileostomy after further surgeries resulted in complete removal of the distal part of my digestive tract, and I am very enthusiastic about raising awareness about ostomies and “invisible illnesses” such as IBD. I choose to be very open about my personal experiences as a patient and have mentored several young women through the difficulty of accepting a life with a permanent ostomy.
What was your route to the bench? What helped you reach your position?
Despite a childhood diagnosis of an inflammatory bowel disease, I have managed to succeed in completing my undergraduate and graduate education in a timely manner. I graduated with a B.S. in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics within four years despite a rigorous course load and dozens of hospitalizations throughout my undergraduate career. I began my Ph.D. training with major surgery during the first semester of my first year of graduate school. My deep devotion to my professional and research goals is the reason there are no gaps in my research training. My relatively unique perspective as both an IBD patient and an immunologist constantly motivates me in my pursuit of a research career studying inflammatory bowel disease. I also feel I could not have reached my position without the love and support of my wonderful friends and family.
Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path? If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
My graduate career started at a point in my life when I was extremely sick and had failed all medical therapies for my severe IBD. I was deteriorating quickly because I had also acquired a Clostridium difficile infection, a serious intestinal infection, which required my resection surgery to be moved up as an emergency. Due to the severity of my condition, I had to take an incomplete for the first semester of my PhD, and retake my courses the next fall. Rather than being disappointed about this, I felt determined to heal and continue undeterred with my professional journey (while still allowing myself to feel a healthy dose frustration when my body would fail me). I successfully submitted my thesis and defended my PhD, 3 weeks after yet another surgery for an intestinal obstruction, another complication of my Crohn’s disease. Sometimes I feel like my entire life is just an endless cycle of regrouping and working to stay on track! But I know in this sense, I am certainly not unique, as we all have our individual struggles.
What advice would you give to an incoming UMich postdoc?
Don’t tie your self-worth to your professional successes or failures.