Student Spotlight April 2024

    Easton Ford is a PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, and is anticipated to graduate Winter 2024.

    Easton was nominated by Barbara Clark, PhD, and provided the nomination details below:

    Easton is an outstanding representative for the UofL graduate community as demonstrated by his research-teaching-service activities. Easton’s research on the development of groundbreaking genomic methods for the study of antibody repertoires is internationally recognized. His abstract, “The Hidden Diversity of Antibody Heavy Chains: Implications for Autoantibody Mediated Disease” was selected for an Oral Presentation at the 2024 Lorne Genome Conference in Lorne, Australia. This experience presenting at an international meeting prompted my nomination for the student spotlight by the graduate school. Yet there is much more that warrants spotlighting. Easton serves as President of the Science Policy and Outreach Group (S.P.O.G.) that has a goal of bridging the gap between science research, the public, and members of congress to mutually benefit all groups. S.P.O.G. is a very active student organization and hosts events for grade school and high school students to teach about STEM-related careers. He completed the Mentoring Academy and has mentored multiple graduate, undergraduate, high school and medical students. He even spoke at the Graduate School Dean’s Reception on how the Academy helped improve his mentorship abilities. Easton gives his time and talents and is a positive influence on his peers. All this while being productive in the lab - he currently has 4 publications. Easton’s career goal is to lead an academic lab leveraging immunogenomic approaches to inform treatment of disease and therapeutic design. Lastly, Easton is a product of UofL – he obtained his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and did undergraduate research in the lab of Dr. Deborah Yoder-Himes before pursuing his doctoral degree in Microbiology and Immunology.

    Easton's Interview

    Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What brought you to your program/area of study and, ultimately, to the University of Louisville?

    A: I am from Owensboro, Kentucky, the desire to attend college led me to the University of Louisville, where I began my undergraduate studies in biology through the UPS Metropolitan College Scholarship Program. This exceptional opportunity not only enabled me to work part-time at UPS but also covered the entirety of my bachelor’s degree expenses. It was during my undergraduate years that I delved into biological research under the guidance of Dr. Deborah Yoder-Himes. Instantly captivated by the scientific process, I found my passion. With Dr. Yoder-Himes's exceptional mentorship and encouragement, I made the decision to further pursue my academic aspirations by joining the PhD program in Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Medicine.

    Now, under the incredible mentorship of Dr. Melissa Smith and Dr. Corey Watson, I am experiencing a dynamic PhD journey in immunogenomics. From pioneering advancements in cutting edge genomics technologies to leveraging these innovations to address pivotal questions concerning disease and human health.


    Q: Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):

    A: I gravitated towards the field of immunogenomics, with a specific focus on the genes responsible for encoding antibodies, due to the vast unknowns and the potential for groundbreaking discoveries. I recognize the profound impact that novel findings in this field can have on translational research endeavors, particularly in areas such as vaccine design and informing patient care in autoimmunity.


    Q: How would you describe your area of study/ specific research to your grandmother?

    A: Antibody proteins are Y-shaped molecules that play an important role in the immune system by recognizing and neutralizing foreign invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens within the human body. The genes responsible for producing these proteins exhibit high variability among individuals and much of the research focused on characterizing the region encoding the tip of the Y, which is responsible for binding to pathogens. However, the stem portion of the Y is essential for moderating downstream functions, though it remains understudied and the genes encoding it cannot be adequately observed using traditional sequencing technologies. In my thesis, we have developed a method called FLAIRR-seq to obtain a comprehensive view of the entire antibody sequence, allowing for a deeper understanding of the genetic diversity that may influence antibody function, particularly in conditions such as myasthenia gravis and acute rheumatic fever.


    Q: What made you go into this field of study? What are some of your long-term goals or aspirations?

    A: I find great excitement in the translatability of our work. One aspect that particularly brings me joy is our commitment to inclusivity in the projects our labs start. We are not solely profiling genes from a single ethnic background; instead, we are designing experiments to examine populations from diverse regions worldwide. Our goal is to ensure that the science we are conducting is equitable and inclusive, with the potential to benefit communities globally which is important to me personally.


    Q: What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?

    A: One of my proudest accomplishments is having the opportunity to present my work at invited international talks during conferences in both Australia and Portugal.


    Q: What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?

    A: My favorite experience in graduate school has been my involvement with and subsequent presidency of the Science Policy and Outreach Group (SPOG). Being part of this organization has rekindled the passion that initially drew me to science. It's deeply fulfilling to serve as a mentor for individuals who may not otherwise have access, guidance or know anything about science careers. This opportunity to make a meaningful difference in someone's journey is a true blessing.

    Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

    A: Keep working hard when times get tough no matter what you do. As long as you keep giving it your all, positive outcomes will always come along.


    Fun Facts

    Favorite book: The Hobbit

    Favorite quote: “The world isn't in your books and maps, it's out there.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

    Favorite show or movie to watch: Lord of the Rings

    Role Model: My Papaw

    Favorite thing to do or place to go in Louisville: Rock Climbing in the Red River Gorge

    If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? That’s a tough decision, but perhaps I would work for a guide service in New Zealand for hiking and climbing or experiment with van life to climb with my friends in the western US.