Postdoctoral Alumni - Kristin Melton
Physician scientist Kristin Melton is driven to understand what causes birth defects, so much so that when she moved to Kansas City in 2001 to take a faculty position at Children’s Mercy Hospital, she looked for a second job in a basic science lab.
Melton, now a neonatologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, found her niche in the lab of Stowers Investigator Paul Trainor, who studies the molecular biology of cranio-facial development. There, Melton conducted basic research, all the while working as a pediatrician.
During her fellowship training Melton had studied lung development and naturally gravitated toward developmental questions. “As a neonatologist I see babies born with craniofacial anomalies, which are common birth defects,” she says. “Basic science is how we move forward on these issues.”
In the Trainor lab Melton studied migratory cells, called neural crest cells, which form head and facial structures. She and Trainor also teamed up with former Stowers’ investigator Olivier Pourquie to identify proteins that control formation of somites, embryonic tissues that develop into muscle and vertebrae.
When she first arrived at Stowers, Melton was the only physician working in any laboratory. “It was a different work environment but my colleagues were very interested in what I did at the hospital,” she says. “People who do basic science want a connection to the clinical side so they can understand how their research influences clinical care.”
In Cincinnati, Melton still does double duty as a physician and lab leader, a calling she finds “tiring and exciting.” She remains interested in cranio-facial defects and has returned to analysis of lung development, where neural crest cells may contribute to airway formation.
Melton misses Stowers’ interactivity, in particular the Friday science clubs where researchers leave the comfort of lab meeting to present data institute-wide. “It’s an incredibly collaborative environment,” she says. “In addition to resources, people share ideas. You always know what other people are working on.” But what is most important, says Melton is that she learned how to pose a scientific question and then address it.