Ed Kelly

Ed Kelly

Ed Kelly

Dr. Ed Kelly

Research Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmaceutics

Dr. Kelly received a Jaconette L. Tietze Young Scientist Award for his project “Identification of MicroRNA Regulators of Hepatocyte Development.“ Read more about the award here.

What drew you to academia?

I have always been fascinated by science in general. The first web page I look at every morning is “Astronomy picture of the day.” But it is biology that interests me most. Growing up, my favorite TV shows were Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” and “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.”

My career path to academia has been rather interesting. Following a post-doctoral fellowship in toxicology/pharmacogenetics, I thought I would go straight into academia. But I was offered an exciting opportunity to head a Bioanalytical group at a Seattle biotechnology company (Targeted Genetics). This was a fantastic experience, but my heartfelt desire has always been to have my own independent research program — something that [Professor Emeritus] Rene Levy and [Chair] Ken Thummel offered me in the Department of Pharmaceutics.

Describe your current position

My current position is as a Research Assistant Professor. But, like most faculty in the School of Pharmacy, I wear many hats. I teach in support of both the graduate and PharmD programs, as well as in the Public Health Genetics and Toxicology curriculum. I am also involved in the UW extension program, serving as Assistant Director of the Master’s Degree Program in Pharmaceutical Bioengineering (PHARBE). Finally, I am the Manager of the Pharmacy School’s Cost Center for DNA Sequencing and Gene Analysis.

What do you enjoy most about your current work?

How much space do I get? I have fantastic students (graduate and undergraduate) in my lab. I’m lucky enough to still find time to work in the lab myself. Before I went to graduate school, I worked for five years as a lab technician at UCSF and I still enjoy it when you get publication quality results on the first (or tenth!) try. One of the projects in my lab involved generating a knockout mouse (genetic engineering where you specifically inactivate a gene using embryonic stem cells), and I spent almost five years before finally succeeding. Another project involving a different gene resulted in mice in less than a year. While the first project was obviously frustrating at times, I now get to do the really interesting work, which is figuring out what the function of the gene is when it is disrupted.

Both of these projects involve genes encoding for cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, but that is where the similarity ends. One should recapitulate a rare eye disease called Bietti’s Crystalline Dystrophy while the other has demonstrated the key function of this CYP in bioactivation of a pneumotoxin called ipomeanol. Studying these phenotypes in live animals is simply fascinating.

I am also really excited about a project in our lab using human embryonic stem cells to generate functional hepatocytes (liver cells) in vitro. Human hepatocytes are an important component of drug development, but their availability is limited to donors deemed unsuitable for transplantation. The use of stem cells as a source of hepatocytes offers an unlimited supply, but the ability to differentiate them into functional cells is challenging. We are using CYP activity as our functional screen and the data we’ve been getting is very exciting.

What is the most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of my job is securing financial support for our research. It is incredibly expensive to do biomedical research and the funding levels from the National Institutes of Health are growing tighter. Between departmental and private support I have stayed above water, but it is a constant struggle.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I’m a big science fiction fan. One of my favorite authors (Isaac Asimov) is a PhD Biochemist like me. I love the original “Star Trek” television show and have a full-sized framed movie poster for “Star Trek VI” hanging in the lab. That movie was titled “The Undiscovered Country” and I think that epitomizes what science is all about.

What would you like to share with students considering a career path similar to yours?

Functioning as a “Principal Investigator in Academia means that you essentially are running a small business. We are always trying to sell our ideas to funding agencies, be they public or private, to continue our research. Considering that I am a junior investigator, I would categorize myself as a “startup” with great potential for future growth.

This is something to keep in mind before considering this career path. For students interested in a faculty position such as mine, I would tell them that the number one thing they need to have is a passion for teaching. While this includes the formal classroom experience, I think the one-on-one training a mentor provides to their students is also critical for long-term career fulfillment.