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Alumni Spotlight: Florian Muller & His Paper In Nature Chemical Biology

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Author: GSBS | Category: GSBS Alumni | February 24, 2017

Congratulations to our alum, Dr. Florian Muller, who just published a senior author paper in Nature Chemical Biology (Leonard et al. 2016 SF2312 is a natural phosphonate inhibitor of enolase).  Florian was a Ph.D. student in the CSB Graduate Program (pre-IMGP) in Dr. Arlan Richardson's lab and he graduated Spring 2007. 

He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cancer Systems Imaging, Division of Diagnostic Imaging at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Florian was also the 2017 CSA Graduate Program Distinguished Alumnus and gave a seminar on Feb. 7 as part of the departmental seminar series. 

1) When did you first become interested in science?

I’d say maybe 10 or 12 years of age. I was concerned about the rainforest being cut down and the world running out of oxygen. I started to experiment on electrolysis to split CO2 to generate oxygen by synthetic means (with hind sight, very naïve!). I then became interested in the biology of aging, and upon learning about DNA (~14 years), I concluded that since different species differ in lifespan and aging, it must be in their DNA, and hence something that can be probed by science.

2) Why did you pick UT Health San Antonio and your program?

I came to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio to work with Arlan Richardson on the Biology of Aging and the role of reactive oxygen species play in that process, utilizing genetically engineered mouse models.

3) Tell me more about your career path.

As I matured as a scientist, I came to the conclusion that getting the results from Aging Research as it is currently practiced in model organisms, to have an impact on human lives, would be too long for my taste. I therefore joined a well-known cancer research lab (Ron DePinho) as I felt I could make a more immediate impact.

4) Tell me about your current career, what do you do?

My current work centers on a novel cancer therapeutic strategy that I developed as a post-doc, called “collateral lethality”. The main in the effort in the lab consists of developing a drug to treat the deadly brain cancer, Glioblastoma (to which Bo Biden, the son of the Former Vice President recently succumbed) utilizing this novel paradigm.

5) What is a day like in your job?

I start my day at Starbucks and plan experiments for the day ahead; usually also do some grant writing. I then come in the lab, check on experiments ask my associates about specific results and start my synthetic chemistry work. I go home, spend a few hours with my son, dinner with family, then back to Starbucks and more grant writing/data analysis, and decide what to do next.

6) How did the education you get at UT Health San Antonio prepare you?

I received a very solid education in basic biochemistry at UT Health San Antonio as well as very good sense of mammalian genetics. All of these come in handy every day, both for driving the big picture project as well as for trouble-shooting experimental details that my associates are having.

7) I heard that you were recently a senior author on a paper for Nature Chemical Biology. What was that experience like?

The experience really took all the fun out of science and I wouldn’t want to have to go through this again if my career didn’t depend on it. Multiple rounds of reviews, re-formatting figures dozens of times, and getting my people to repeat the same experiments over and over just so that they look pretty enough for the reviewers and editors….not much fun. Scientific discovery took 5 percent effort, publishing 95 percent. I strongly feel that the current model for sharing scientific findings is deeply inefficient and is more driven by cosmetics rather than content.

8) What is the most challenging part of your work?

In Ron’s lab at Harvard, I worked with amazing people that were all equally driven in an institution that supported such people. At M.D. Anderson, the pace of life is a lot slower and the institution is more rigid. As such, working around the bureaucracy requires a significant intellectual and emotional effort.

9) What is the most rewarding part of your work?

Seeing tumors disappear by MRI when treated with a drug that I synthesized with own hands. That’s what makes me the most happy.

10) What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?

Do not do it unless you deeply love science and are willing to compromise on most other aspects of your life. Know that only one in ten post-docs will actually make it to the Assistant Professor level. There are lots of really nice career paths outside academia where a meaningful contribution to science can be achieved.

11) What do you like to do outside of work?

I have a sweet 3-year old boy. Social and playtime with him are my main activity outside the lab. Other than that, the lab is my life and my life is the lab.

12) I know you gave a departmental talk to CSB in February. Were you excited to come back to campus?

Absolutely; such fun memories…..though sadly, fewer and fewer people that I worked with are still there. Arlan and his team went to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. 

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