BS, Chemistry, Georgetown University
PhD, Biochemistry, University of California, San Francisco
Sue Jaspersen, PhD, was a history major at Georgetown University, planning to go to law school and work on Capitol Hill, when she signed up for organic chemistry. She aced it and changed her major to chemistry — a complete career switch. But Jaspersen credits the freshman biology class she took as a junior for turning her into the biologist she is today. “I saw how I could combine my love of science with my love of life,” she says.
After earning her BS in chemistry from Georgetown University in 1994, Jaspersen completed her doctoral studies in biochemistry at the University of California San Francisco. There, as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellow, she studied cell cycle regulation in the yeast Saccharmoyces cerevisiae in the lab of David Morgan. Jaspersen did her postdoctoral training at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she was a Keck Foundation and Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow and received a multi-year Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Career Development Award. She joined the Stowers Institute as an assistant investigator in 2005.
While her scientific accomplishments are many, Jaspersen is proudest of the students and postdocs who have come through her lab and have successfully launched careers in science. “I find that the most fulfilling and rewarding part of my job is to watch those individuals go off and have an impact in science,” she says. To that end, Jaspersen is active in the American Society of Cell Biology’s mentoring program and works closely with the predoctoral researchers she advises.
Jaspersen’s teaching and service extends to her community. She’s a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City. She regularly gives talks for Saturday STEM Seminars, a Kansas City science outreach program for high school students and teachers, and advocates on behalf of the American Cancer Society, a supporter of her research. As a member of the American Society of Cell Biology’s Public Policy Committee, she’s working to make sure scientific research is well-funded, and to encourage a better understanding of science overall. “I think it’s really important to be scientifically literate, because at some point in time, you are going to be confronted with either healthcare challenges or decisions to make involving science,” Jaspersen says.
The Jaspersen Lab studies the complex processes that guide cell division in yeast. “We are really interested in how cells protect the DNA they so preciously need, how they distribute DNA during cell division, and how they physically copy their genetic material and pull their genetic material apart to make two individual daughter cells,” she says.
In her more than two decades studying cell division, Jaspersen has significantly advanced the field. Her early work centered on spindle pole bodies (SPB) – the yeast equivalent to centrosomes, structures responsible for organizing a cell and regulating cell division. In the 2002 Journal of Cell Biology (JCB), Jaspersen reported that a membrane protein called Mps3 was required in SPB duplication. Subsequent studies in 2007 and 2010 in JCB further illuminated the workings of the protein. In 2007, the March of Dimes named her a Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar for her expertise in using yeast models to understand the biology underlying disease. And in 2010, she received an American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award to study the role of SUN proteins, which line the inner nuclear membrane, in cancer. Her current work investigates the nuclear envelope, a protective barrier that separates the nucleus containing the cell’s genetic material from the rest of the cell.
Jaspersen’s research has potential applications for human health, as problems with cell division can lead to a wide spectrum of disease, including cancer and birth defects. “We want to study how cells divide in a normal context, so that we can understand the abnormal,” she says.