BMS department starts seminar series with Dr. Fletcher Taylor Jr.

Lauren Fitch

The Grand Valley State University community will have closer contact with some leaders in the Biomedical Science field thanks to a new seminar series that started Tuesday with Dr. Fletcher Taylor, Jr.

Taylor, who spoke on his 50 years of work developing a treatment for septic shock, was invited to GVSU by his son Dr. Merritt Taylor, who is an assistant BMS professor and also helped organize the series.

Merritt said the goal of the seminar series is to bring in outside professionals to share their research and clinical experience. Having his father as the first speaker was a bonus.

“He came to visit for Thanksgiving, and I said come speak,” Merritt said.

The seminar series will continue in December and next semester, as organized by GVSU faculty Merritt, Chris Reed, Suganthi Sridhar, Derek Thomas and Dan Bergman.

“The mission behind it is to make it accessible,” Merritt said.

He said many student do not know the career options they have with a BMS degree, and the seminar series will make them more aware of the possibilites.

“They see the human stories behind (the research) and what were their struggles,” Merritt said. “People can actually get to see what their careers can be like.”

During his presentation, Fletcher shared some of the struggles he encountered while developing Xigris, a drug used in emergency rooms to help stop clotting associated with septic shock.

Septic shock is a stage of severe sepsis, which is when an infection survives antibiotics and enters the bloodstream. It can quickly lead to shock, and if the patient survives that, then organ failure. Fletcher went into detail describing his research methods and the function of Xirgis, but he paused when explaining severe sepsis in simpler terms.

“Let me say this in English,” he said, and then smiled as he continued. “Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons? There are two rooms. In one room, they’re trying to kill you with knives … if you make it to the second room, they’re trying to kill you with fire.”

He compared this to double attack of sepsis, emphasizing how dangerous the condition is and why treatment is so important.

All the time Fletcher spent developing a drug to treat septic shock proved beneficial in others ways too. Merritt said it was his father’s work that originally inspired him to also pursue a career in BMS.

“I’m nuts about undergrad research,” Merritt said. “The reason is the experience I was able to have with my dad’s research … Our biggest connection is sharing that enthusiasm for learning.”

Merritt said he began helping his father in high school and was fortunate to have that opportunity at such a young age.

“I knew science was interesting and could be fun,” Merritt said. “I certainly didn’t learn that in my classes (at high school) … The only reason I stuck with it is because I had that experience.”

Now, Merritt tries to impart that enthusiasm for learning to his students, saying he has high expectations for them. The seminar series will serve as a way for students to get a better idea of what to expect from themselves after graduation.

Tim Olson, a fifth year senior majoring in BMS, is one of Merritt’s students who attended the first lecture. He said it was impressive to have Fletcher talk about developing a worlwide drug that addressed such a big problem.

“It was very, very in depth,” Olson said of the presentation, admitting at some times it was hard to follow. “This is taking it to the next level beyond the classes. This is the step to take to get to the real world.”

After all of his hard work and great accomplishments in the BMS field, Fletcher had one general piece of advice for students.

“Work hard and party hard,” he said.

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