ACPHS In The News

Pursuing Dual Passions in the Lab

Landon Thompson presenting research in March 2024 at the Eastern New York Student Chapter of the American Society of Microbiology
April 8, 2024

At the 2024 ACPHS Research Symposium, 23-year-old Landon Thompson described four years of research, working with ACPHS faculty, fellows and other students on a novel pathway toward curing HIV.  

As one of nine researchers – only two of them students – giving podium presentations during the annual research showcase, Thompson summarized an innovative approach to “shocking” HIV out of its hiding place by inhibiting an enzyme that may be found near the site where the virus integrates into DNA. By reactivating the latent HIV cells this way, researchers hope they might expose them to therapeutic drugs that could kill them – providing a cure for a virus that has evaded such an end for decades.  

Thompson spoke like a seasoned educator, deftly alternating between the technical details of his work on RNA polymerase III’s impact on HIV latency with generalized, easy-to-understand statements on the researchers’ process. He highlighted the lab’s “shock and kill” strategy with pop-culture images featuring characters from “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.”  

If there were moments when it seemed Thompson took the topic lightly, nothing could be further from the truth. A few days before his presentation, he described the impact of being involved in such weighty work, which holds the potential to improve millions of lives.  

“It feels like a large responsibility,” Thompson said. “When you’re working in the lab, it’s like, I could do this task tomorrow. But maybe I should do it today – get it done – because that could be one step closer (to a cure).  

“Even at time when you feel like the experiments aren’t working, and you don’t feel like you’re producing much, you think to yourself, ‘What if I just contribute one small step?’” 

Thompson’s contribution to the work in Dr. Singh’s lab is a big step toward a personal aim: to earn dual doctorates in medicine and philosophy. As he heads toward graduation in May with a Bachelor’s in Microbiology and Master’s in Molecular Biosciences, he has been accepted to two medical schools and is waitlisted for MD-PhD programs. With far fewer of the latter around the country, competition is fierce.   

While med-school acceptance is an achievement many would embrace, Thompson is mulling whether to take a research job for now, then reapply to MD-PhD programs if he does not get into one. Research seems like too much of his life to give up.  

Indeed, Thompson has been unable to choose between his dueling passions for patient care and research since his years at Bethlehem High School. He was surprised to learn he could find his path toward both, just 5 miles from his Delmar home.   

“I was thinking I’d have to go away to some big school to have these opportunities, but they were right downtown, a few miles from me,” he said.  

He wanted to stay in the Albany area because of third passion: rowing. He has rowed, coached and competed in local and national regattas with a group based at the Hudson River’s Albany Rowing Center since he was 13. He considered pursuing his undergraduate degree somewhere with a Division I crew team but did not like the cutthroat vibe of those programs.  

So he focused on finding a research-intensive school in the Capital Region. Knowing ACPHS as a pharmacy college, he was surprised to learn about research opportunities here. Once he arrived, Dr. Singh’s lab was another auspicious discovery, a perfect fit for his dual interests.  

“In this lab, we have two focuses. One focus we’re looking at is cure strategies for HIV,” Thompson said, describing that as pure scientific research with an important potential application. “And then the other, we actually look at HIV-associated neuroinflammation” – managing the symptoms of a disease.   

Thompson began working in the Singh Lab the first semester of his sophomore year, delayed from an earlier start by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in his first year. He has spent 15-20 hours a week there ever since, taking on progressively more complicated tasks. This semester, much of that consistent, methodical work bore fruit, as he published a scientific article and made presentations to regional and national audiences, including at conferences of the American Society of Virology and the Eastern New York Student Chapter of the American Society of Microbiology (pictured above).  

Dr. Singh counts mentoring Thompson and witnessing his progression from a “curious young student to a published young scientist” as one of the most satisfying aspects of his own job over the last several years.  

“Due to his brilliance, hard work, collaborative skills, leadership, and quick learning abilities, he rapidly emerged as a strong pillar to my research program and has immensely contributed to the research output as well as training of several undergraduate and graduate students in my lab,” Dr. Singh said.  

In addition to the work itself, Thompson was drawn to the lab by the collegiality of Dr. Singh and other researchers there, as well as collaborations with adjacent labs run by Associate Professors Binshan Shi and Timothy LaRocca. He acknowledged the collaborative nature of the research in his symposium talk.  

He does not regret his decision to stay in the Albany area. He has found a community of like-minded health and science students at ACPHS, where a commuter student like him can easily blend with classmates who live in dorms or off-campus apartments.  

And he still gets to row, six days a week. Some chilly, gray mornings, he trudges through the intense physical workout that starts his day. But other times, the morning rhythm is miraculous, as he glides through calm waters that reflect the sunrise’s transition from blue-violet to yellow and the occasional bald eagle flies overhead.  

“Just like in the lab,” he said. “Sometimes your experiments aren’t working. But you’re in awe those moments when everything comes together nicely.”