SCA 2005 Yuha Desert & Olympic National Park
Bio Researcher | Napa, CA
Lillian holds a truly rare perspective of SCA: she’s been both a team member – restoring Southern California landscapes and habitats damaged by unauthorized off-road vehicle use – and a team leader, directing the efforts of an SCA trail crew at Olympic National Park. Now, she’s in her second term on SCA’s Board of Directors, lending her insights and leadership in the areas of board governance, marketing and field programs. On top of all that, Lillian says she uses a lot of what she learned with SCA on the cutting edge of biological research.
What lead you into your professional field?
I have loved science for a long time and have followed a winding path through different kinds of research before finding my current position. In college, I wrote a thesis on the development of a technique to study pollution on coral reefs. At the same time, I worked in a lab studying the relationship between the REM state of sleep and sleep apnea. In graduate school and beyond, I studied clam and sea urchin ecology, Gekko evolution and prion diseases. Now, I work for a company that develops drugs to cure rare diseases. All of the jobs I have had, but particularly the work that helps families in such dire situations, have been very fulfilling.
Are you pursuing any particular “Holy Grail” at the moment?
I am currently working on a gene therapy product for the treatment of Hemophilia A: a rare, genetic blood clotting disorder. Gene therapy utilizes viruses to help deliver genes to patients who have genes that aren’t functioning properly. Existing therapies for Hemophilia patients involve daily, weekly or monthly injections that help with blood clotting. This can be painful and does not prevent all future bleeding events. Gene therapy would be a one-time solution to this terrible disease, truly a Holy Grail in medical research.
What, if any, environmental factors are behind the diseases in your research?
Previous to working in Hemophilia research, I worked in a lab that studies prion diseases. The most commonly known disease is Mad Cow disease (the human form is called Creutzfeldt-Jacobs disease). There are clear environmental factors involved in disease transmission, related to how we treat and process cattle before consumption. It is becoming clear that Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and many other neurodegenerative diseases are prion diseases as well, although they are not acquired in the same way as Mad Cow Disease. There are studies that show the benefit of cardiovascular exercise to our long-term memory. Being active outside also exercises your brain!
Does any of what you learned through SCA apply in your current job?
I use many of the lessons I learned with SCA in the work I do. SCA taught me a lot about working with other people to achieve a common goal. My days now are filled with discussions about strategy and teamwork. I rarely work on a project alone. SCA also taught me much about conservation and the importance of being a good citizen of our planet. And I learned that first impressions should not be lasting impressions. People, when given the opportunity and encouragement, can rise to any occasion. I have found this to be true for myself and others many times!
You fill one of two seats on the SCA board intentionally set aside for recent alumni. What’s that like?
Being on SCA’s board has brought me an entirely new perspective on the organization. When I was an intern or a crew-leader, I was only one of thousands of young people in the field that year. There are incredibly talented staff members that keep the SCA family safe and provide really unique experiences. Along with SCA’s amazing staff are passionate, creative board members who are constantly working to answer these questions. I am really lucky to be a part of a group that advises one of the best conservation organizations in the world! I also do my best to represent the views of alumni and am always open to feedback by alumni willing to share. It’s an honor to do so, but it’s also a lot of fun to meet members and alumni from programs around the country.