UK Big Blue Family: Colleagues in Liver Disease Research, and in Life


Hi I’m Dr. Martha Peterson Professor of
Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics and I’m a Senior Associate Vice President
for Research. I’m her husband Brett Spear. I’m also
a Professor in the College of medicine in the department of Microbiology, Immunology
and Molecular Genetics. We were graduate students at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison.
We were in the same program. I was a TA for the lab course because I was a year ahead
of them, I met him that way. She gave me a B, everyone assumed I got an A in that course
but it was a B. We got married, I moved to Philadelphia and did a postdoc there. When
Brett graduated, he did a postdoc up at Princeton, then we needed to find jobs together. So when
we moved here in 1989, our son was six months old and we got our labs going and we’ve
been here ever since. My research is in the area of liver disease.
I study liver cancer. My research is gene regulation I would say,
in the broadest since, actually RNA is my favorite molecule. A lot of what we do is to train students and
I have to point out to, what we do is very basic research, but these are complex diseases
and we are learning more everyday. When we first came here we had our own independent
research projects. They were similar and we could talk with each other, but about twelve
years ago there was a project and it had to do with liver disease but Martha’s expertise
really was relevant in this project, so we actually started working together to cologne
a gene that was going to be involved with liver cancer. After about four years we cloned
that gene, I can still remember my graduate student bringing that data, and it was that
eureka moment that rarely happens. The feelings was finally, we’ve discovered this gene,
everything else is going to be simple. Well, we’ve learned a lot of new things but we’ve
also learned it’s a lot more complicated than we thought. We still don’t know exactly how it’s working. That’s the challenge of basic research.
You make a discovery and you think you’ve made some progress, and you have, but it just
leads to more and more questions. So, we’ve continued to collaborate. We have joint lab
meetings, and we mentor students together. We work pretty closely together and it’s
worked out well for us. And pretty much daily. So when we are home,
we don’t talk that much science although every once and awhile, wheels start turning
and I remember something like oh we gotta talk about this! Sometimes I have to tell her to calm down
a little bit. It was more important when we had our kids, they are both grown now, but
when our kids were young it was important that we didn’t sit around the kitchen table
and talk about grants and research, but talk about other things. So, I think there are plenty of married couples
who would not work together very well, but it works for us. Martha mentioned that we have different last
names, one thing that is fun for me is when I meet people on campus and something will
come up about Dr. Peterson or something. People always talk about oh I just love Dr. Peterson,
or I just think she’s great! They’ll say this and they don’t know that I’m her
husband, and so it’s really fun when I hear that and I can say oh I know, she’s my wife.
So that’s one thing I really enjoy. Brett is so passionate about a number of different
things. He’s very passionate about the graduate students, I know that he just loves that. One thing that I really admire about Martha,
is she’s a very logical thinker. I admire that because I’m not that logical thinker. He’s the creative one, so I can always rely
on him to come up with a different way of looking at things. And he keeps us both laughing,
he’s got a great sense of humor. I guess we can say we compliment each other
with the different ways that we think. We know that what we do might not have an
impact for a long time, because going from understanding the molecular aspect of the
disease to treatment is a long road but liver disease is a growing disease in Kentucky,
so we have to figure out what causes the problems. Hopefully the research somewhere down the
road will have an impact. I’m Dr. Martha Peterson, and Dr. Brett Spear
and we’re proud to be a big blue family.

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