Dr. Chase Spurlock is CEO of IQuity, a specialty diagnostic technology company in Nashville, TN, as well as a faculty member in Medicine at Vanderbilt University. He received his B.S. in Biology at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. Chase then completed his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology at Vanderbilt University for which he was awarded the Sidney P. Colowick award for outstanding research. Chase is here with us today to talk about his research, his company, and his life.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:00)
Though free time can be scarce between conducting research and running a company, Chase takes advantage of his time off to hang out and travel with friends. At this stage of their lives, they have been fitting in trips to more challenging and adventurous destinations. Recently, they enjoyed visiting the city of Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
The Scientific Side (3:11)
Chase’s company IQuity looks at RNA within blood samples from patients to better understand a patient’s health status. RNA is a dynamic molecule, and levels of RNA can change as a result of disease. Using a specific type of RNA, they have been able to develop methods to identify people who have different autoimmune diseases. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system that normally keeps someone healthy malfunctions and makes them sick. Autoimmune diseases are hard to diagnose and can take a long time to diagnose. One of the goals of IQuity is to make this process faster for clinicians and patients so patients can be treated earlier.
A Dose of Motivation (4:30)
There’s no discipline without joy and no joy without discipline.
What Got You Hooked on Science? (9:12)
In elementary school, Chase’s teacher showed the class amazing images of cells viewed through a microscope. Learning about cells, bunsen burners, petri dishes, and other scientific staples sparked Chase’s interest in science and medicine. He knew he wanted to pursue these fields in college, and Chase also had a chance to get hands-on experience doing research while there. Chase conducted field research on birds and bugs with his mentor David Haskell, and it was so exciting to put together a story with the results of their observations and experiments in his senior thesis. Chase realized then that research may be something he wanted to do for a career. He connected with Tom Aune at Vanderbilt University in graduate school and, after some initial aversion to the tedium of basic lab techniques, continued to develop his fascination with research.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (23:03)
After struggling through many cycles of trying and failing to successfully set up a particular protocol, Chase had to take a step back and reflect. Each experiment took 2-3 days to complete, and it was frustrating because they just couldn’t get things to work. He had been in the lab for hours on a Saturday when it dawned on him. There was one solution in the lab they were using for all of the experiments that wasn’t working. Chase scrapped everything and started back at square one. When he went to analyze his sample, he was thrilled to see that it finally worked. Sometimes approaching a problem with a fresh perspective can help you identify a solution.
A Shining Success! (25:17)
For Chase, their company IQuity has been a great success. There have been many small successes along the way that helped them get funding, and now the project has really taken off. He is proud of the science, the potential impact, and the people who are working hard to make it all possible. Chase really started to believe in the project when they were able to successfully predict, based on initial blood samples taken in the clinic, which patients would go on to develop multiple sclerosis. At this point, he knew the importance of the technology and knew it could really change people’s lives.
Most Treasured Travel (28:23)
Last fall, Chase presented their findings in London at the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) conference. This is a major conference in the field of multiple sclerosis research, and it brings together a great mix of clinicians, researchers, data scientists, and others. Chase was talked to scientists and medical professionals from all over the world, and through conversations and their feedback, he was able to think about his work in new and constructive ways. He is hoping to return to the city soon for more exploring and sightseeing.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (31:14)
For Chase, Tom Aune has been a phenomenal mentor and colleague. Over the years, he has passed on important lessons, sometimes from unexpected sources. For example, there was a magazine article by Charles Nicholson called “What Dogs Know” to which Tom often referred. One piece of wisdom from the dog article came to be known as the “Squirrel Rule” because it said that trying to chase two squirrels into a tree at once is the surest way to lose both. Tom would remind Chase of the “Squirrel Rule” every time he was tempted to simultaneously write two grants. Another rule from the dog article often referred to says that if your job involves swimming in a creek, there is no point in wondering if the water is cold. This comes up whenever Chase complains about things like the challenging funding climate.
Advice For Us All (35:53)
A professor of religion at Sewanee named Jerry Smith introduced Chase to the idea from Sören Kierkegaard that purity of heart is to will one thing. Chase tries to keep this in mind when he wants to tackle 10 or 15 projects at once. It is important to focus on one objective and see it through. In addition, while serving as the Chief of the Fire Department at Sewanee in college, Chase learned from the Head Chief that dealing with people can be done in two ways, similar to the two ways you can hold a bird. You can cradle a bird in your hand or hold it with your hand around its neck. Though it can be tempting in the business world to choose the latter, delicacy is often important for navigating relationships and motivating people to work to advance a single mission.
Chase serves as Chief Executive Officer at IQuity, Inc. and oversees all day-to-day aspects of the company, ensuring the vision and mission are realized. Through combined experiences in the laboratory and clinic, Chase is committed to translating basic science discoveries into improved diagnostic strategies for patients with autoimmune conditions. Chase’s published work explores the molecular basis for autoimmune disease and further examines therapeutic targets in the management of these diseases leveraging a diverse set of genomic and biochemical approaches including gene expression and next-generation sequencing technologies. In an ongoing project, Chase and his team are working on developing a blood test to diagnose multiple sclerosis. This diagnostic test would allow diagnosis of the condition sooner, allowing patients to begin their treatments earlier.