As a third grader St. Patrick Reid told his mom he was going to cure diseases. He doesn’t know why — he just loved science.
The now Dr. Reid is an assistant professor in pathology and microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). He’s a highly sought-after virologist who has worked on a variety of infectious diseases, with a recent focus on a re-emerging disease in Tanzania.
“I knew seeking solutions to infectious diseases was something I would do in my life, no question,” he said.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Dr. Reid emigrated to New York at age six.
“We came in September or October,” he said. “My first memory of the U.S. was that I hadn’t brought a jacket to wear, and it was cold. You don’t wear jackets in Jamaica!”
Dr. Reid’s school experience in America, from grade school through postdoctoral studies, was dominated by his desire to be a scientist.
“I asked a lot of questions. When I got older, I found out my uncle was a chemist, so I think it’s something in my genes,” he laughed.
After college and graduate school, Dr. Reid traveled to France for postdoctoral study with Dr. Victor Volchkov, one of the world’s leading virologists. Dr. Volchkov taught him to look at viruses from the virus side, not the human side — unlike many who were studying viruses at the time.
This redirection of focus, he said, reset the way he asked research questions.
Instead of asking how a virus affects people, he learned to ask: How does the virus survive? What does the cell do to the virus? Once you reframe research that way, he said, you can target therapeutics toward the virus.
While in France, Dr. Reid met Sina Bavari, a lab chief at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), who invited him back to the United States to work at his lab at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md. It was through Dr. Bavary that he was introduced to UNMC, and he arrived in Nebraska in 2016.
“My mother wasn’t happy,” he said. “She said, ‘Don’t go there, it’s in the middle of nowhere!’ My brother came to visit — he didn’t believe there would even be buildings! Once he got here, he laughed and said, ‘Alright, this is a legit city. You’ll be okay.’”
At UNMC, Dr. Reid earned his doctorate in microbiology with a dissertation on Ebola and continues to work on Ebola to this day, along with his new interest: a virus called Chikungunya that was first identified in Tanzania. He has launched his own research program and teaches.
“I like the idea of designing a next generation of ‘mini-me’s’ I have molded,” he laughed. “I let my students write research papers, something my own graduate professors did not allow, because I think it’s better for them — for all of us to start igniting their ideas.”
In February 2019, Dr. Reid won the UNMC New Investigator Award for his work redesigning a bone model for Chikungunya, a project he undertook with a UNMC colleague.
The pandemic, though challenging for so many, has opened some opportunities for infectious disease experts, including Dr. Reid. He’s spent a lot of time studying the way COVID-19 works, serving as a co-author on two leading COVID-19 papers. “Aerosol and surface contamination of SARS-CoV-2 observed in quarantine and isolation care,” was published July 29, 2020. “The size and culturability of patient-generated SARS-CoV-2 aerosol,” was published August 18, 2021, in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. He also assisted a colleague in successfully testing nanofiber technology to improve swabs for sample collection.
In May 2021, Dr. Reid was appointed a National Strategic Research Institute Fellow, and he recently kicked off work with the institute, applying his skills to the needs of soldiers and first responders.
Working with Dr. Joshua Santarpia, NSRI research director for chemical and biological programs, Dr. Reid will help to develop a new understanding of virus that cause respiratory infections, like SARS-CoV-2.
“Dr. Reid’s passion and knowledge will be key to developing a better understanding of these viruses,” Dr. Santarpia said. “This new approach will help us better assess the threat posed by emerging viruses as well as those we already know.”
The best thing about working with NSRI, Dr. Reid said, is that the institute gives his work a more direct, more applicable meaning.
“A lot of academic science gets to be ephemeral,” he said. “But having a focus on the modern warfighter, it becomes more real.”
The guy who loved science “since the day I was born,” sees a long future in virology.
“This is where the third grader in me wanted to be,” he said. “I believe in that kid. That kid had vision.”
About the National Strategic Research Institute
Through the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska leading scientists deliver innovative national security research, technology, product and strategy development, training and exercises, and subject matter expertise to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. One of only 14 DOD-designated University Affiliated Research Centers in the country, NSRI is sponsored by U.S. Strategic Command and works to ensure the United States’ safety and preparedness against increasingly sophisticated threats. Read about our mission.