Working at a lab bench

Student Perspective: David Purger

Why did you choose to come to graduate school at Stanford University? What attracted you to the Biosciences PhD Programs?

I chose to come to Stanford for medical school originally based on the combination of research opportunities - Stanford is one of the best places in the world to combine neuroscience and stem cell biology — and a rigorous but flexible approach to clinical education that allowed me to pursue research and volunteer opportunities. In addition, the presence of every department and every school in the university on the same campus allows for collaboration between researchers in widely different fields, something I valued greatly during my undergrad research experiences.

I decided to join the SCBRM PhD program because of the potential for pluripotent stem cell technology to revolutionize treatments for the neurological disorders I am interested in studying, and because of the vision of the Institute faculty in realizing an innovative curriculum that prepared me well for my research in both a theoretical and a technical way.

Describe your research.

I am interested in the stem/progenitor cell populations in the adult mammalian brain and how they contribute to the maintenance and regeneration of white matter. Using optogenetics, a new technique in neuroscience whereby we can modulate the activity of specific neural circuits, I stimulate neuronal activity in the motor cortex of mice and investigate the effects of increased circuit activity on oligodendrocytes and their progenitors in remodeling the insulating myelin sheath to adapt to the demands of the relevant circuit. I am currently working on deciphering the molecular mechanisms that underlie this phenomenon of white matter adaptation and the epigenetic systems that regulate it. As white matter is a frequent target of degenerative disease, this work has the potential to yield new insights into treating neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

Why did you choose to join your lab?

I joined Dr. Michelle Monje's lab in August 2012, when it was relatively new. From the beginning, I enjoyed being able to influence my projects in a very direct and meaningful way, and build the project from the ground up as opposed to jumping in at late stages of something that was almost complete. My labmates come from a variety of backgrounds, including neuroscience, stem cell biology, cancer biology and biochemistry, and our skill sets combine in a way that allows us to approach scientific problems from several perspectives. Our lab is extremely collaborative, and I very much enjoy discussing my projects with all of my colleagues. Finally, Dr. Monje is herself an alumna of the Stanford MSTP program, so she has been an incredible role model for me as I plan my future balance between research and clinical activities.

What do you like about living in the Bay Area?

Coming from the East Coast, I find there to be a refreshing emphasis on work/life balance that permeates both academia and industry in the Bay Area, while everyone still manages to maintain an incredible work ethic. This area is also the perfect place for outdoor activities, since the weather is almost always favorable and all sorts of excellent terrain for hiking, climbing, running, biking, water/snow sports and almost everything else you can do outside is in close proximity.

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