Q&A with Department of Surgery Doctoral Graduate Thomas Biel

Tom and KimCropped
Thomas Biel, Ph.D., left, with Jae-Sung Kim, Ph.D., one of his doctoral program mentors.

Thomas Biel, Ph.D., earned his doctoral degree in December 2014, under the mentorship of Jae-Sung Kim, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF department of surgery and leader of the Cell Death and Mitochondrial Biology Laboratory; and Kevin Behrns, M.D., the Edward R. Woodward professor of surgery and chair of the department.

His doctoral degree is in medical sciences-pharmacology and experimental therapeutics. Biel has worked as a researcher at UF, the University of Arkansas, the University of Pennsylvania and Keystone College. His bachelor’s degree in science is from Keystone College.

Not many people choose to earn a doctoral degree within a department of surgery, so we decided to dig a bit deeper and learn more about Biel, his time with the department and his plans for the future.

Q: Why did you decide to earn your Ph.D. in the UF department of surgery?

A: I joined the department to study with Drs. Jae-Sung Kim and Kevin Behrns. Dr. Kim, my primary mentor, facilitated a strong scientific foundation to support and direct my studies, while Dr. Behrns, my co-mentor, provided clinical insight into the applications. Both have a high demand for scientific excellence, thus I wanted to train with individuals that would push my abilities and improve on my scientific understanding of disease progression.

Furthermore, the department provides a unique collaborative environment between physicians that treat disease and scientists that explore potential treatments. I feel that the union between these two fields provides the optimal way to advance medicine.

Q: What was the focus of your study and dissertation?

A: The focus of my dissertation was investigating the role of Sirtuin 1 during liver ischemia/reperfusion injury. During the course of my studies, we confirmed that Sirtuin 1 plays a cytoprotective role during liver ischemia/reperfusion injury, Sirtuin 1 activation induces autophagy to suppress hepatocyte death during reperfusion and discovered a novel Sirtuin 1-Mitofusin 2 complex.

Q: What are your post-graduation plans?

A: I am pursuing post doc position(s) that will further investigate and identify protein post-translational modifications that alter mitochondrial function and disease progression.

Q: Please briefly describe your relationship with Dr. Kim as your mentor.

A: Dr. Jae-Sung Kim has been a great mentor that supported and believed in my scientific abilities from my first year joining his lab. Our professional relationship and his mentoring style have cultivated an independent young investigator that has the required commitment, perseverance and dedication to succeed in the scientific community. Over the last five years, I have worked closely with Dr. Jae-Sung Kim on several research interests that have branched into other projects that we are currently exploring.

Q: Where do you ultimately hope to take your career?

A: Ultimately, I hope to advance my career to a tenured faculty position at a research institute with a small laboratory that focuses on studying mitochondrial function and therapeutics to advance medicine.

Q: What else should we know about you?

A: 1)   During my graduate studies, I received two international research posters of distinction from the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease and the silver medal at the University of Florida’s graduate research competition.

2)   I have trained three people: two undergraduates and one graduate student.  I really enjoy mentoring new students and watching them advance their own scientific abilities.

3)    I am an annual science fair judge for intermediate and high schools.