Postdoctoral Alumni - Justin Grindley
Justin Grindley has covered a lot of territory in terms of biological systems since he earned his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 1995. Initially eager to apply mouse genetics to brain development, Grindley did his first postdoc with developmental biologist Brigid Hogan at Vanderbilt, only to find himself working on something totally different.
“In the Hogan lab I discovered that all the brain genes I had been interested in were also expressed in the developing lung, a far more tractable system that had become a focus for the laboratory.” says Grindley. As a result, Grindley spent a two-year postdoc identifying factors promoting branching morphogenesis of the lung, and then eight more as a research instructor at Vanderbilt working with physician scientists in neonatology and pediatric cardiology.
Meanwhile, stem cell technology was revolutionizing every field, and serendipitously, Grindley’s wife, also a biologist, had accepted a postdoctoral position with Stowers Assistant Investigator Kausik Si. Grindley, seizing the opportunity to learn about stem cells from an expert, landed a position with Stowers Investigator Linheng Li, and in 2005 began a 4-year tenure as senior research associate.
The Li lab works on both hematopoietic and intestinal stem cells, and Grindley’s research projects and his collaborations with other lab members involved him in studying both systems in normal homeostasis and in cancer. He is particularly proud of work he did with Xi He of the Li lab and Jeff Haug, who heads the Stowers flow cytometry facility, to identify two subgroups of hematopoietic stem cells: a first responder group and a slower-acting reserve population. That study was published in 2008 in Cell Stem Cell.
In 2009 Grindley left Stowers to take a position as research scientist at Pfizer, where his experience studying stem cells in cancer, known as tumor-initiating cells, provided a springboard to developing oncology therapeutics. In 2011 he moved on to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown, New York, where he is a senior staff scientist in the target information group. “When I first joined industry my specialist stem cell knowledge helped get me through the door, but in my new role my broad biology background comes in quite handy,” he says, noting that companies may favor job seekers who can both apply their existing knowledge and rapidly master new topics.
But he also credits Stowers’ state-of-the art support facilities with exposing him to the kinds of rigorous standards required in the pharmaceutical industry. “Stowers explicitly tries to be the best at whatever they do,” he says. “Their emphasis on best practices is helpful wherever you go. Once you leave Stowers, you have a good idea of how things SHOULD be done.”