This question-and-answer series explores the motivations, inspirations and accomplishments of investigators at St. Jude. Jason Rosch, PhD, is an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Host Microbe Interactions. His laboratory explores host-pathogen interactions and antibiotic resistance in respiratory diseases of children.
1. What inspired you to have a career in scientific research, particularly studying infectious disease?
I have always enjoyed science but was particularly fascinated by how much seemingly simple organisms like bacteria and viruses could cause such a spectrum of maladies in human patients. Understanding how these pathogens have evolved to cause these diseases and the strategies they deploy can reveal new weak points that we can target therapeutically.
2. Much of your work focuses on host-pathogen interactions. What is one finding (paper, study, etc.) from your work that you want to highlight? Describe what makes it stand out to you.
We had a study some years back in collaboration with our clinical colleagues investigating a case of antibiotic treatment failure in one of the patients that was a particularly challenging case. The patient had a bloodstream infection with a strain of vancomycin (an antibiotic) resistant enterococcus that persisted despite multiple rounds of therapy. With our lab-based approaches, we could molecularly dissect why this infection was so difficult to treat. We published that work in mBio. This inspired us to expand our research program to understand the role of high-risk hosts in infectious diseases, particularly in antibiotic resistance. This is particularly important here at St. Jude because most cancer patients can be considered high-risk due to compromised immune systems resulting from their treatments.
3. What do you wish more people understood about your field?
I wish that more people understood that not all infections are the same. How each pathogen causes disease, including the short- and long-term consequences of those infections, as well as the strategies and challenges in their treatment, are largely unique to each individual pathogen. I think this really underscores the importance of understanding host-pathogen interactions across multiple pathogens, as there really is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
4. Are there any other researchers/mentors whose work you admire or who have helped you along the way? How important was their influence on your career path?
I have been incredibly fortunate to have an extensive network of mentors and collaborators who have been instrumental in my career success. Elaine Tuomanen, PhD, former chair of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases, has always been an incredible mentor for insightful and constructive scientific and career advice. She always challenged me to think beyond basic scientific insight and how to push the envelope forward to advance our scientific achievements in clinically translatable ways. I have been fortunate enough to have several other collaborations, both within St. Jude and across several other institutions globally, that have allowed us to work collaboratively to advance our work in host-microbe interactions.
5. Where do you draw inspiration as an investigator to continue to study challenging topics?
I am always inspired when our experiments give us completely unanticipated results. While we might have a logical idea based on a strong rationale for how a system is working, it is when those expectations are turned on their head that things tend to get really interesting. I still enjoy the rush of scientific discovery as well as mentoring the next generation of scientists.