2008

Thanksgiving

Welcome to students who are considering applying to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hopefully we will meet with some of you later this spring.

The last weeks have been exciting. Shelby and I attended an NIH-sponsored workshop on nonhuman primates and AIDS vaccine design in Washington D.C. The next day, we flew to Miami and attended another workshop on the use of nonhuman primates and organ transplants. We were joined in Miami by Roger Wiseman, Julie Karl, and Ben Bimber from the lab. An exciting outcome from the meeting is that we will hopefully be working closely with dbMHC to create a publicly available resource for understanding nonhuman primate major histocompatibility complex genetics.

Since returning from Miami, we’ve been finalizing preparations for the 26th Annual Nonhuman Primate Models for AIDS meeting that we are co-hosting with the Caribbean Primate Research Center. Going into the last work week before the conference starts, I am happy to report that our planning is complete! Our lab will be well represented at the meeting. Julie Karl and Ben Bimber will be giving platform talks, I will be chairing a session, and Roger Wiseman, Ben Burwitz, Justin Greene, Dawn Dudley, and Shelby O’Connor will present posters.

It's nearly Halloween

Fall is always a pretty season in Madison. The trees change colors, there is a cool breeze in the air, and we know that winter is just around the corner. October also is one of our busiest months of the year, along with February. I don’t know why these months are so busy, but year after year they are.

News from the lab:

1) Ann Detmer and Kevin Campbell submitted a manuscript to Immunogenetics

2) Melisa Budde, Dawn Dudley, and Justin Greene are writing applications to the Gates Grand Challenges in Global Health program.

3) Ben Burwitz, Ben Bimber, and Justin Greene applied for Vilas Travel Grants to subsidize their attendance at the 26th Annual Nonhuman Primate Models for AIDS meeting in December.

4) I applied for a Burroughs Wellcome New Investigators in Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases fellowship.

5) I served on an NIH study section earlier this week, requiring me to spend my first night away from my 7 week old son Eli. Shelby has been spending lots of time with Eli, but still found time to help with lab sequence analysis and teaching.

6) The HIV/AIDS course for undergraduates that I team teach with Tom Friedrich, Shelby, and other members of our laboratories is in full swing. For the first time, we are podcasting the audio/video of the class to the students.

7) We’re busy with multiple ambitious experiments on a number of different genetics and virology projects. I’m going to be presenting the genetics data in Miami next month, while Roger Wiseman is presenting some of the same data today at the Association for Molecular Pathology meeting in Dallas.

The Newest Lab Member

September has flown by, assisted by the birth of our son Eli Jamie O’Connor, who came into this world at a happy and healthy 6 lb. 14 oz. The early weeks of his life are chronicled at his blog, but we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has provided congratulations and support. Members of the lab have been terrific, accommodating our time away from work and even helping with some of our non-work needs (thanks for the food Roger and Mari!) While we’ve been gone, the lab hasn’t stopped. Some of our September highlights include:

1) Ben Bimber’s manuscript on KIR immunogenetics was accepted for publication by the Journal of Immunology.

2) Justin Greene gave a presentation on adoptive transfer at the NIH’s AIDS Vaccine Research Subcommittee.

3) Roger Wiseman visited New Haven, CT for a 454/Roche Sequencer User Group meeting.

4) Ann Detmer and Kevin Campbell finished preparing a manuscript for submission to Immunogenetics.

5) Ben Burwitz prepared a manuscript for submission to the Journal of Immunology.

6) I began preparing for an October NIH study section.

7) We taught the first month of our HIV/AIDS course to approximately 80 undergraduates at UW-Madison.

Labor Daze

Howdy all. An exciting few weeks as we lead into Labor Day. Roger will soon be going to New Haven for a conference and has been busy making a poster. Ben Burwitz passed his prelim B yesterday, making him our lab’s fourth dissertator. We have two manuscripts in the submission stage, so it has been busy around here...

Not to mention that Shelby is due to deliver the lab’s first baby boy any day now. Updates to the website will probably become less frequent, unless I start posting pictures. In which case they will probably become annoyingly frequent.

Crutching

The past two weeks have been interesting. Last Tuesday I sprained my ankle badly playing basketball. Today, nearly two weeks later, is the first day that I can hobble around without an aircast. For the first week after the injury, I was on crutches. Unfortunately, the injury came two days before a trip to New York (to visit IAVI) and Washington D.C. (to visit NIAID). Navigating the Northeast on cructhes isn’t very much fun.

But while I was gone, there was lots of activity in the lab. Ben Bimber’s manuscript on killer immunoglobulin receptors in macaques received a very favorable review. Chad Pendley departed the lab to start medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin, while Alex Blasky left to start a PhD program at the University of Colorado-Denver. Very soon, their replacements Ann Detmer and Jen Tuscher will arrive. Now we await the start of the academic year that will coincide with Shelby’s due date. Managing the responsibilities of lab with the responsibilities of parenthood promises to be interesting.

Busy as a Bee

In the last few years, I’ve discovered that fewer and fewer hours at work are mine - most of the time I’m either coming from a meeting or going to a meeting. And when I’m not in meetings, I’m being asked about my availability for yet more meetings. It sometimes feels strange anything gets accomplished at all. And while I need to attend meetings, I’m trying to be a bit more saavy in scheduling. To wit, notice the newest addition to my toolbar, ‘Dave’s Schedule.’ This handy link takes my calendars and puts them into an HTML viewable form (without disclosing what I’m actually doing). Hopefully this will simplify meeting planning, if only a little.

In other news, at night we now face the age old struggle - work on our soon-to-be-due grants or watch DVDs of ‘How I Met Your Mother’. The last two nights, Doogie has won.

Eritrea!

A few people have asked about the countries where our visitors have come from. Here is a map showing where their geographic distribution:



We’ve even had a visitor from Eritrea! Soon the sun will never set on the O’Connor lab web empire.

In the last two weeks we submitted a manuscript for consideration by the Journal of Immunology. Hopefully the reviewers will like it. Even if they don’t, the lead author, Ben Bimber, probably won’t care too much since he is getting married this weekend! Congratulations Ben!

Shelby is still very pregnant, though both of us are scurrying to submit grants for the September 7 NIH deadline.

We are also starting to prepare for this fall’s offering of the UW-Madison undergrad class Pathology 210: HIV: Sex, Science, and Society that I am coordinating along with Dr. Tom Friedrich.

Lastly, we are preparing for this year’s nonhuman primate models for AIDS meeting in December. I am co-chairing the meeting with help from staff at both UW-Madison and the Carribbean Primate Research Center. Early response is incredibly positive. We are a month away from the abstract deadline and already we are running short of hotel rooms for the nights immediately before and after the meeting.

We're Huge in Asia!

We now have more than a month of tracking data from Google Analytics. It is amazing to me how far-flung some of our visitors are. Our little lab web site has been visited by people from places that I couldn’t point to on a map (Carlisle, UK? Kuantan, Malaysia? Really?).

I’m writing this at the tail end of the long Independence Day weekend. Though I frittered my Sunday away watching the Wimbledon finals, the lab has been positively hopping the last few weeks. With Alex Blasky and Chad Pendley weeks from starting grad school and med school, and their replacements already busy at work, we have never seemed like such a large lab before. Hopefully we haven’t reached our carrying capacity yet!

Let’s see...other news:

• Alex Blasky had his paper on reference-strand mediated conformational analysis accepted for publication at Immunogenetics
• Ben Burwitz passed his graduate school Prelim A with aplomb
• Ben Bimber is preparing a paper for submission to the Journal of Immunology while preparing for his upcoming nuptuals
• Shelby O’Connor is now 30 weeks pregnant and looking the part
• We are busily writing grants for the upcoming NIH AIDS grant deadline and bracing ourselves for this fall’s Pathology 210 class

That’s all for now. Big thanks to those of you taking the time to read about our lab from afar.







My Complex

I’ve spent the last week researching an NIH R21/R33 grant I hope to submit in early September. Concentrated researching means shutting off email, closing the door to my office, and trying to stay focused on identifying and reading papers. Terrific software like Bookends makes the process much easier than it used to be, yet it is still tough sledding. Occasionally I look for a diversion. Yesterday I found one - setting up Google Analytics to analyze traffic to this web site after learning of two people who discovered that Shelby and I are expecting from reading this lab web page.

That just can’t be right, so I decided to investigate it (you see, I’m a scientist. That’s what I do. I investigate things). I thought that stats would show that no one visits the site except for wayward students and people from the lab. It turns out that I might have been wrong - while we certainly aren’t ESPN.com, we’ve logged more traffic than I expected. Which puts me under pressure to make sure that I keep this page updated. And worry that I’m going to say something wrong. Or accidentally divulge that Chicken McNuggets based HIV vaccine I’ve been working on.

In more germane news, congratulations to Alex Blasky, whose research paper describing a new type of genetic testing recived very positive reviews and will hopefully be published later this year. Alex, Julie Karl, and Justin Greene described their recent research at the UW-Madison Immunology Symposium last week. We also just migrated our lab’s entire information management system from a series of Mac Minis held together by a load-bearing series of firewire cables to a fancy new XServe. I’m excited because I can leverage the new technology to harass the staff twice as much in half the time. Progress!

It's Memorial Day!

It's been an exciting month in the O'Connor lab. In addition my mounting excitement over being a new dad (and Shelby's, of course, of being a new mom!), we have begun planning for a fall semester where we will be on maternity/paternity. Except for the Path 210 class we teach. And except for the NHP AIDS 2008 meeting that we are co-chairing. And except for all the other exceptions that we haven't identified yet! But really, we will be MIA for most of the fall (we hope) as we welcome our newest family member to the world.

Other exciting news:

-Justin Greene's paper on adoptive transfers in nonhuman primates was accepted at PLsS ONE.
-Chad Pendley and Ericka Becker's paper on MHC genetics of Indonesian cynomolgus macaques was accepted at Immunogenetics.
-Ben Bimber and Justin Greene have passed their Prelim B, while Ben Burwitz is gearing up to take his Prelim A at the end of May
-Dawn Dudley submitted a grant application for UW-Madison ICTR Pilot Project Funding
-Joe Mankowski from Johns Hopkins visited us for two days in early May, right before the weather got nice
-Simon Lank and Ann Detmer will be joining the lab as Associate Research Specialists in our Genetics Unit after graduation in May

And the Pirate Monkeys, a soccer team comprised mainly of players from our lab and David Watkins's lab, have started the spring season on a 4-0 tear.

Seattle in a Nutshell

As seen in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center last week.

Sewing Machines?

Neither Shelby nor I know how to use sewing machines. We both learned how to use them in high school, but we don't own one and have never really felt a need to have one. But that may be changing. Since the February update, life in Madison has been crazy. Justin's paper on adoptive transfer of lymphocytes is being considered for publication in PLOS One. Chad and Ericka's paper on the MHC genetics of Indonesian cynomolgus macaques is in press at Immunogenetics, and we have three more papers being readied for submission. In addition to writing and reviewing papers, we have been teaching classes and traveling. Since the beginning of March, I've visited New York, Washington D.C., and Seattle. Fortunately I don't have any more long trips planned.

Important events brewing outside of lab are contributing to the bustling atmosphere at work. In mid-March, we learned that Shelby is expecting our first child in mid-September. The last few weekends have been spent cleaning the house and preparing a baby room. We are overjoyed, but recognize that life in lab will likely never be the same! I plan on taking a considerable amount of paternity time during the fall semester. If you are a prospective graduate student matriculating this fall, I am not yet sure whether we will be taking rotating students. In addition to the pregnancy, I suffered a concussion, had a tooth extracted, and spent quite a lot of time digging out from this winter's record-setting snowfall. So yeah, it's been busy!

SKY.fm

A few months ago we had a rental car that only got one radio station. For nearly two weeks, it was WKOA, all country all the time. And, I'm ashamed to admit it, we liked it. A running debate in lab is what qualifies as a musical guilty pleasure. I'm pretty sure that any songs that include the lyrics 'I want to check you for ticks' and 'Ain't no high maintenance woman gonna fall for a maintenance man' qualifies. Tonight I rekindled memories of those two weeks by listening to SKY.fm's Country internet station. And, once again, I liked it. I suspect this will serve me well the next time I need to venture south of the Mason-Dixon line.

A Grim Realization

According to this week's Sports Illustrated, most basketball players lose the ability to dunk by the time they are 34. This means that I have only a few years to improve my vertical jump by about two feet and learn coordination so that I can dunk before my window of opportunity closes. Perhaps I need to start wearing ankle weights as I sit at my desk all day. I'm sure that will help.

Where in the World is the O'Connor Lab?

As Madison creeps closer to 100 inches of total snowfall this winter, members of the laboratory have been abandoning the city in the name of science! Shelby and I just returned from Sao Paulo, Brazil where we spent a week with our collaborator Esper Kallas. During our time in Brazil, we met with research staff and taught Brazilian scientists and clinicians about HIV pathogenesis and genetics. Now that we are back, Julie Karl and Ben Bimber have left to spend a week working with computer programmers at Connexio in Perth, Australia. Alex Blasky is also out of the lab right now as he vies for graduate school admission.

Even with all the traveling, we have had a very good start to the year. We received NIH R01 funding for a project to study adoptive transfer of vaccine elicited immunity. The Wisconsin National Primate Research Center conducted an exciting site visit of its activities. And I recently received a UW-Madison Vilas Associate Award to support a study of HIV superinfection in collaboration with Dr. Kallas in Brazil. Now we can start to gear up for spring (if winter ever ends!).

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from your friends in the O'Connor laboratory! Around this time of year we often receive inquiries from prospective students considering graduate study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our laboratory is affiliated with the Cellular and Molecular Pathology program, the Cellular and Molecular Biology program, and, most recently, the Microbiology program. Additionally, we train students in the Molecular Biosciences Training Grant, regardless of their graduate program.

The last few months have been really exciting. Julie Karl's manuscript on Chinese rhesus macaque MHC genetics was published in the journal Immunogenetics. Two of our undergraduate researchers (Chad Pendley and Ericka Becker) are working with Shelby O'Connor to submit a manuscript describing Indonesian cynomolgus macaque MHC genetics. Justin Greene is submitting a third manuscript exploring adoptive transfer in macaques. 2008 is already shaping up as a busy year for publications.

It has also been a busy time for travel. Dave visited Washington D.C. twice and New York in November. Dave and Shelby took a much-needed vacation to Hawaii in December and will be traveling together to Sao Paulo, Brazil in February to lecture on HIV to Brazilian scientists.

Lastly we would like to welcome our newest undergraduate researcher, Kelly Sandman. In other personnel news, Chad Pendley has accepted a full-time position in our laboratory following his graduation in December. Additionally, undergraduate Kevin Campbell recently won a Mary Shine Peterson scholarship to support his continuing research in our laboratory. We are exceedingly proud of our undergraduate's high quality work, but will likely not be hiring any additional students (unless they are exceptionally well-qualified scholastically, GPA > 3.75) during the spring semester.