JID - Meet the Investigator - 2016

Dr. Harris-Tryon receiving award

Meet the Investigator: Tamia A. Harris-Tryon M.D., Ph.D.

Interviewed by: Ayman Grada, MD

1) Congratulations on your 2017 Dermatology Foundation Physician Scientist Career Development Award. Can you tell us about your experience and advice for women in science?

I am fascinated by the skin and its ability to protect our body from infection. My goal is to try and make an impact on how we treat skin diseases. My advice to junior basic scientists is to find environments that support research, specifically departments that understand the critical importance of protected research time. I feel very fortunate to work at UT Southwestern with a chair, Dr. Kim Yancey, who values basic science and understands the commitment required for success.

2) Can you give us a brief description of your recent work, preferably highlighting key points/lessons learned

The long-term goal of my work is to understand how the skin bacteria, fungi, viruses, and mites (collectively termed "the microbiota") regulate cutaneous immunity. Through basic research, I hope to unearth previously uncharacterized aspects of human biology for the purpose of improving treatment modalities for diseases that currently have inadequate treatments, such as hidradenitis suppurativa. In my current project, I have identified a protein expressed by the skin that acts as an antimicrobial protein, protecting the skin from bacterial infection.

3) Tell us about your background

My family is originally from Guyana in South America. I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Louisville, KY and Atlanta, GA. I attended Haverford College where I studied enteroaggregative E. coli in the lab of Iruka Okeke. I then went on to the MSTP program at Johns Hopkins. After dermatology residency, I accepted a junior faculty/postdoctoral position at UT Southwestern in Dallas, working with Dr. Lora Hooper in the Department of Immunology. I have always had an interest in tropical medicine and had thought that I would specialize in infectious diseases. However, as I learned about the overlap between dermatology and infectious diseases, the role dermatology plays in low-resource settings, and the amount still left to be discovered in the field, I knew that it was the best fit for me.

4) Tell us about your research interests and how they developed.

My desire to become a physician-scientist started during a summer research project in the lab of Shizu Hayashi Ph.D. Our group studied the integration of adenovirus DNA into human bronchial epithelial cells. The hypothesis was that antecedent viral integration into host tissues predisposed infected hosts to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Like my current project, this work would not only elucidate fundamental features of human biology; it would also help further our understanding of the pathophysiology of the condition COPD. I saw then the role that basic science can play in enriching our understanding of human health and disease. Like the lungs, the viruses and bacteria present on the surface affect the skin, and this crosstalk likely plays a significant role in skin function.

5) What are your long-term career goals?

After completing my postdoctoral work, I anticipate starting my own laboratory, where I will continue to focus on deepening our understanding of the host microbial interface at the skin surface. I thoroughly enjoy the variety of being an academic physician-scientist, with the mixture of bench/translational research, general dermatology, and resident teaching.

6) What advice do you have for researchers who are just starting out in their careers?

If you have a question and no one has the answer, then you have a project! I used to ask questions all the time during residency that had no answers. My postdoctoral fellowship has given me the skills I needed to synthesize my prior research and clinical training, to ask novel questions about the skin and skin diseases.

7) What are your interests outside of research?

My husband, Ahren Tryon, and I have two daughters who are 4 and 7. I spend my time outside of the lab with my family. We love watching movies and reading classic children's stories like Alice in Wonderland and new well-written book series like Anna Hibiscus. We also enjoy taking advantage of the great weather in Dallas, walking and biking on the paths throughout the city. My husband and I recently started dancing lessons. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, close up.