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New head of the Trudeau Institute discusses research and plans for the biomedical research center

Dr. William Reiley
Nancie Battaglia
Trudeau Institute
Dr. William Reiley

The Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake was created in 1884 and became famous for its research into tuberculosis. Today, scientists there conduct biomedical research on a number of infectious diseases.

Dr. William Reiley has just become the ninth President and Director of the Institute. Reiley began working at the Trudeau Institute in 2006 and was serving as its chief scientific officer when tapped by the board to lead the organization. He tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley he has been at the Institute since he was a post-doc and expects the new job will be a huge challenge:

I think that there’s a great opportunity here that we have here at the Institute to obviously capture back to where we were when I first started of 120 individuals all doing basic science and research, also applied research to try and combat infectious diseases and make an impact on global health.


Well when you say ‘capture back’ has Trudeau veered from its original mission to look at lung diseases and things like that?


It hasn’t veered from its mission in what it’s done. It’s had to undergo changes. In 2008 and 2009 the credit and financial issues that hit America obviously hit not-for-profit organizations exceptionally hard and ours was basically one of those that was hit. The Institute at the time really was solely dependent upon funding from the National Institute of Health. And so one of the things that I did was to generate a new revenue generating arm within the Institute to basically do sort of a fee-for-service. And what we do is we test efficacy of novel therapeutics, vaccines so it can move forward in the FDA filing of these different materials and move into clinical studies as well. So by diversifying our portfolio, as you would say, from just basic NIH funding to other operations such as this sort of fee-for-service contractual-based entity to an educational piece that we really didn’t have before we now really diversifying how our funds are coming into the Institute. And that’s really my charge is to take this and to push it as we go forward into the next stage of the Institute.


Have you also had to look again at the scientific research and if you also have to look at diversifying your scientific research?


Yeah, great question. And the thing is that we've really never fallen behind. I mean, during SARS- CoV-2 2019, shortly after the virus had been identified, isolated in early 2020, we actually had the virus here at the Institute. We were working with outside groups testing novel therapeutics that were being developed and novel monoclonal antibody strategies. And eventually vaccines that were being developed. We are able to rapidly change our course based on the outbreaks that may be occurring. Another great example was, a few years before that, Dengue and Zika infections became very, very heavy in the population and so a bunch of our scientists transitioned to working on Dengue and Zika. And we still have some very strong ties with SUNY Upstate working on these particular viruses. The Institute's always been right at the forefront. It's always been working with its partners to be at the cutting edge, at the leading edge, of science.


William Reiley, you have been at the Trudeau Institute since you were a postdoc and you've been doing hands on research. How important will that experience be as you work as the Trudeau Institute's director, which is really a management position?


Yeah, great, great question. But I think that that's one of the keys is that the effectiveness of any leader is the fact that they can see all the different positions and they know exactly what it takes. You have to understand the roles of a technician, the roles of a postdoc. You have to understand the roles of a faculty and I basically been here for 17 years and have accomplished each one of those checkbox. You know, I've been through the different stages. And I understand what it takes to take something from basic research to final product to writing grants to obviously publishing and so I understand the roles and I can understand the pitfalls that sometimes scientists are going to run into.


Dr. Reiley, will you still be able to conduct research projects at Trudeau even as you're leading the Institute?


It will definitely be a challenge. I'm not going to lie. You know, part of my roles and responsibility will be overseeing the research organization that I mentioned before that works with outside entities. But I also still have passion for basic research and basic science. And I'm actually working on small pilot studies right now that we're hoping to give some good results. That will lead to me writing an NIH grant with some of my fellow collaborators at Loyola University and Oregon Health Science Center. So the hope is, is that I'll still be able to maintain those research ties and being able to do basic research, just not as much as I'm sure that I would have the time for if I was just doing nothing else besides just doing research.


For the listeners who may not be familiar with the Trudeau Institute, what are some of the key research projects that are ongoing right now?


Their founding is on mycobacterium tuberculosis. In 1960-1964, we diversified, started working on other areas of infectious diseases. Today, the Trudeau still maintains its legacy working on tuberculosis and working on other non-microbacterial tuberculosis diseases that are obviously are affecting people globally. And we work now on a variety of different new viruses, as I had mentioned before Coronavirus, Zika, Dengue virus. But we still work on influenza viruses and some that have been plaguing us for a long time. Staphylococcus aureus, basically klebsiella pneumonia, other bacterial infections that relates to lung infection but also that can be related to skin and sepsis as well.


Haven't found a cure for the cold yet, though, have you?


No, we have not! And that's one of the major things that is a challenge is generating a vaccine that will not only provide long lived protection, such that you would only need a single or two shots of that vaccine to provide a you know, 40 years or 50 years of protection. The other thing is that we don't want to have to give a vaccine every year like we presently do for influenza. So finding something that's called the universal vaccine, that is something that we strive for. But sometimes is very difficult to obtain because of the way that the viruses have evolved and how they mutate can create a lot of complications and challenges for scientists.


Well, Dr. Reiley, what is your vision for the future of the Trudeau Institute?


Yeah, well, I think that obviously sustainability. We hope to be through the diversification and really on a good solid footing here by the end of ’25 - ‘26. And then the hope is, is then we can start to grow. The goal that I really have is to take the Institute from where it is right now at 64 individuals and bring it back to the full operations of 120 - 130 people all working on basically research in a really special place, Saranac Lake. It's a very unique location for a research institute. Most research institutes are located in large major metropolitan areas. So the fact that we are where we are is just an amazing place. And so we definitely want to keep that history and legacy and I really want to see the institute continue to survive for the next 60 years.


Dr. William Reiley began his job as the Trudeau Institute’s president, director and CEO on February 1st.