Get to know… Kelly Williams

Kelly Williams is an Iowa State University graduate who joined HudsonAlpha nearly two years ago. A postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Rick Myers’ lab, Williams’ research focuses on pyridostigmine bromide, a drug used in the Gulf War.

Q: How and when did you come to HudsonAlpha?
When I was close to finishing graduate school in 2009, I started looking for jobs in the area because my husband had a job offer here.  I did not know much about Huntsville at the time and was very excited to learn about HudsonAlpha and the cutting-edge research that was being accomplished.  It was fortuitous that Dr. Myers was looking for someone to work on a new project on toxicological exposures that ended up being a good fit for me.  I started as a postdoctoral fellow in the Myers lab in January of 2010.

Q: What is your research area and what is your role in the effort?
My project involves studying the effects of pyridostigmine bromide, a drug that was used during the Gulf War of 1991 and which has since been associated with the development of Gulf War Illness.  We are using a combination of traditional toxicological research approaches and sequencing-based technologies to address our questions of interest.  I help design and conduct experiments, analyze data and share our findings.
Q: Why is this research important?

The goal of my work is to help provide of a greater understanding of the short- and long-term effects of pyridostigmine bromide and how these effects may be linked to Gulf War Illness.  By furthering the understanding of this drug and how it may interact with other factors such as stress and investigating whether there are other drugs that might be safer alternatives, it is my hope that this research could lay the groundwork for better treatment regimens for veterans afflicted with Gulf War Illness and for currently deployed soldiers who may be vulnerable to nerve agent attacks.

Q: What other research areas are of interest to you?

My background is in nutritional science, so I am always interested in keeping up with the latest research from that field.  I like that it focuses on understanding the balance between health and disease with an emphasis on prevention.

Q: What’s your educational background?

My degrees include a B.S. in nutritional science and dietetics and a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences, both from Iowa State University.  During graduate school I studied vitamin A toxicity, as well as the development and progression of diabetes, with a specific focus on the role of methyl group metabolism and epigenetics in each of these conditions. 

Q: What sparked your passion for science?

I’ve always loved animals and being outdoors, so I was naturally drawn to biology.  I ended up choosing nutritional science as my major in college because I liked that I could study something that could be applicable to my daily life.  As I delved deeper into my studies, it became clear that nutrition was just one of many factors influencing health, so my interests broadened to include physiology, toxicology, genetics and genomics.  I love that science is continually growing and evolving. It always seems exciting and new.
Q: What do you like best about working at HudsonAlpha?
It is a great learning environment at HudsonAlpha.  There are so many fascinating projects that are addressing important scientific questions. It’s a diverse group with each individual bringing ideas and knowledge, and new technologies are being used or even developed here. 
Q: Tell us something about you most people would be surprised to know.

Most people are surprised to hear that I play volleyball (because I’m 5’0" tall), but every team needs a setter, too.