As with most doctors, Queen Anne resident David Galas doesn’t have much spare time, especially with his new job as principal scientist at the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute (PNDRI).
World-renowned in his field, Galas’ research focus is type-2 diabetes. With one in three children born after 2000 susceptible to type-2, his research is timely and significant — not only to the Pacific Northwest but globally. His work involves analyzing genetic data and applying it to human diseases such as diabetes.
Also new to the institute is Dr. Joe Nadeau, a former colleague of Galas, who lives in Downtown Seattle. Nadeau said that Galas has traits that aren’t always prominent in scientists but are strong advantages.
“He’s smart [and] engaging,” Nadeau said. “He has a wide range of interests. He’s eager to explore new questions, explore new ideas. You’d think that would be common in science, but it’s not as common as you’d expect.”
For his part, Galas said he has always considered genetics “one of the most fundamental and most intriguing parts of the biological sciences. The discovery of DNA and the discovery of codes, information about biological systems is fascinating.”
Working well together
Galas hasn’t always worked in this area. It was only after he received his doctorate degree in physics from University of California, Berkeley that he began to consider a career in genetics.
After spending time in academic science in places such as the University of Geneva and the University of Southern California, he became the director of biological and environmental research for the U.S. Department of Energy. It was during that time that he met Nadeau, and the pair worked on the Human Genome Project together. Several years later, they had the opportunity to transfer to Seattle and eventually chose to come to PNDRI, on First Hill.
Both Galas and Nadeau said their ability to work well together plays an important part in their research.
“For me, there are several things in close collaboration — one is that the other person is accomplished and has lots of expertise in particular areas, especially areas that complement what I can do,” Nadeau said. “In this case, he complements with his computational skills and experience, and I bring a genetics background. I want to work with really good people, interesting people, diverse people, well-rounded people. If you’re going to work closely with someone, you have to like, trust and respect them, too.”
John Wecker, CEO and president of PNDRI who brought Galas and Nadeau to the institute, sees their collaboration as imperative in making “the advances necessary to take on the challenges of diabetes.” The task the institute faces is too large for a single organization to take on; this is where Galas’ international contacts become useful. Technology makes it easy to communicate and work with scientists all over the world.
“Having people like Dr. Galas and Dr. Nadeau here, bringing their understanding of the genes — together with our researchers who understand diabetes, as well as collaborators outside who also bring important new information around diabetes that we can combine,” Wecker said, “these kind of collaborative efforts really are the key to the future. And it just opens up a tremendous amount of opportunity for us as an organization to improve the impact that we can have on the health of the people living with and at risk of getting diabetes and really advancing some important biomedical breakthroughs.”
A new ‘energy’
The institute began in 1956 and has a history of making biomedical advances. With a focus on diabetes, the goal is to discover new ways to prevent, manage and ultimately provide a cure in the future.
“Once you have an understanding of the disease, you’ll be able to tell exactly and hopefully predict whether a person is really susceptible to one or the other types of diabetes long before they actually come down with it,” Galas said. “Then the real hope in the long run is to be able to do something that prevents it from happening.”
The choice to bring Galas and Nadeau to PNDRI has fared well for Wecker, who is pleased with their work ethic and the work environment they provide.
“[Galas] is always looking for opportunities to collaborate, and obviously, a scientist at that level is naturally inquisitive and always asking interesting questions,” Wecker said. “It's really exciting to have them here. They and their laboratories are — I like to use the word ‘vibrant’ — they’re vibrant and they’re active, and they bring an energy in the building. We just really enjoyed having them join us and be part of the PNDRI family.”