By Mariah Cox
Where can passion, hard work and more than a decade worth of experience get you? They landed Maggie Lange-Osborn her own research lab on the University of Missouri campus.
Lange is starting down that path in Bond Life Sciences Center but will move to a permanent space in either the Medical Science Building or Schweitzer Hall eventually. She’s excited to spread her wings and establish herself independently of her past role in the Bond LSC.
In the meantime, she’s working arduously to build her lab from the ground up. From small materials such as plastics for cell culture, pipettes and pipette tips and chemicals to make buffers to large expensive equipment, Lange will eventually need it all.
“Walking into the lab, you don’t realize all of the things you need to do an experiment. When I walk into my lab space, I literally have nothing,” said Lange, a newly appointed assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology (MMI). “You have to think about all of those things, you know it’s not just the equipment it’s the pipettes, the incubators, the hoods and then also the materials to put in those things.”
Luckily with 10 plus years in the building, Lange knows of all of the shared resources available to her, so she doesn’t have to invest in many expensive machines just yet.
“I cannot wait to do my first experiment with my own equipment,” Lange said.
Lange began her career at MU in 2003 as a PhD student in the Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and Veterinary Pathobiology Graduate Program, whether she knew it at the time or not.
When applying for faculty positions, Lange worried that she would be placed in a box, unable to separate herself from her graduate work if she stayed at MU. With time, she’s found that hasn’t been the case.
“Even though I’ve been here for so long, I’ve been able to surround myself with people who know more than me and who have different areas of expertise than I do,” Lange said. “I can still branch off and learn a lot from other researchers, which is what I found really attractive about Mizzou.”
Her segue into research occurred during her first year as a graduate student in an MMI lab in the School of Medicine. Under Michael Misfeldt at the School of Medicine, Lange studied pattern recognition receptors in the innate immune system, which is the body’s first line of defense against a virus or bacteria.
The specific receptor she worked with recognizes a component of viruses. From there, Lange wanted to understand how a host is able to respond.
“After working on that I felt like I had a really good grasp of the host response side and I wanted to get more of the virus side to understand virus replication and what types of replication mechanisms work to signal the host from that perspective,” Lange said.
That led Lange to join Bond LSC in 2008 as a post-doctoral researcher in Donald Burke’s lab. Known for specializing in HIV research and viral biology, the Burke lab gave Lange the opportunity to understand virus side interactions.
Lange wasn’t quite ready to move on at the end of her post-doc, and the success with her research led Burke to invite her to stay on as an assistant research professor.
“During that time, I was more exposed to leading people and mentoring people in the lab. I was able to get some teaching experience in that role as well in the infection, immunity and advanced virology classes,” Lange said. “The position evolved into really enjoying all of the components that would be required for a tenure track position and it grew from there.”
In her sixth year as an assistant researcher, Lange decided she was ready to run her own lab. However, she knew it would be a challenge to secure a faculty position and even more difficult to stay at MU.
But, her experience in the Burke lab and her proven ability to obtain grant funding worked in her favor.
“It’s really nice to stay in Missouri because mine and my husband’s family are here,” Lange said. “When I was growing up, my dad was in the military and we moved around a lot, so I never got to know my grandparents or cousins. It’s really nice now that my kids get to have those relationships with their extended family.”
Her goal with her new lab is to combine her knowledge of viral interaction in the body and hosts’ response to infection.
Three projects currently in the works for grant submission focus on host-virus interactions and how different host factors and viral proteins interact during replication. One specific project looks at the host factors that are involved in HIV induced death caused by different HIV proteins.
“While HIV has been around for a long time, there are still things we don’t know about it. With the research, I’m getting back to my innate immunity roots and looking at exactly how viruses interact with innate immune receptors and signaling pathways and how that interaction dictates pathogenic outcomes,” Lange said.
Understanding the death pathways for HIV can lead to the development of a strategy to preserve T cells and facilitate the death of the virus. Additionally, it can lead to the development of therapies toward eradication.
Her excitement isn’t just for her new lab, it’s also for her newfound opportunity to provide students with lab experience and open up the possibility of research for those who haven’t had access to it.
“I’m from a rural community and I didn’t even know that a PhD existed when I was in high school,” Lange said. “I’d really like to present those opportunities to people like me who have no idea that they’re even available. There are so many things you don’t realize are possible because of the environment that you’re in whether it be in rural or inner-city communities.”
While unknowingly launching her career at the outset of her PhD program, Lange is grateful her path led her here.
“It’s been really fortunate for me, the way the whole process developed. I love this building and the awesome people I’ve met here, but I’ve been here since 2008, so having a fresh perspective elsewhere could be beneficial. I’ve worked a long time with both Marc Johnson and Donald Burke and being away from the building will allow me to meet new investigators and establish new collaborations,” Lange said. “While we still have very productive collaborations and have promising, active projects, it will help demonstrate that I’m separate from them and have my own interests as well.”
This story originally appeared in Decoding Science on October 16, 2019.