Our researchers are a fierce driving force behind therapeutic development and future treatment. Let’s find out what makes them so passionate about KIF1A! Each month, one of our invested KIF1A researchers will be in the spotlight. Our very own Dr. Dominque Lessard is first in the line up for our monthly Q&A.

Headshot of Dominique Lessard

Dominique Lessard, PhD

Chief Science Officer, KIF1A.ORG

Dr. Lessard has been an active member of the KIF1A.ORG community since we began collaborating with her and Berger Lab at the University of Vermont in 2018. Beyond her scientific expertise, Dr. Lessard has a clear passion for empowering KAND families to be active partners in research and discovery. Dominique joined the KIF1A.ORG team in 2020. As Chief Science Officer, Dominique drives KIF1A.ORG’s efforts to build a global, collaborative research network, and leads our research engagement and science communication strategy.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Before COVID I would have probably said teleporting, as it would dramatically increase my efficiency during the day by cutting out all forms of commute time. Now that I barely leave my house, I’d pick some sort of regenerative healing superpower, specifically tailored to healing the ailments of others. As an aside, debating superpowers is a discussion topic I’m quite fond of (and have some passionate opinions about) and I’m happy to do so with anyone who is interested off-line. 😉

When did you know you wanted to be a scientist? Why were you drawn to this field?

My interest in science was peaked at a very young age, however I didn’t always know that I wanted to pursue a career path in science. I started conducting research early on in my undergraduate career, but I bounced around a lot in terms of topic. Infectious disease to reproductive physiology to immunology and finally to molecular physiology and biophysics in grad school where I found KIF1A and was hooked. Motor proteins like KIF1A are fascinating machines inside of our bodies. I love studying and observing movement, be it in the form of athletic performance or understanding movement deep within our cells. Studying KIF1A was the perfect way to connect my love of movement to my love of science.

What do you love most about your job?

I love communicating and sharing scientific findings with people who want and need to learn technical scientific information. No one should need a PhD to understand scientific findings, especially as they relate to their personal or loved ones’ health. However, this is often a reality regarding the flow of scientific information and we need scientists to help “translate” complex scientific findings to increase accessibility for all. I love reaching out to communities and individuals to help turn question marks into “A-ha!” moments. It is very empowering for both sides.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Time, in all aspects. I wish I had more time in a day, I wish I could physically move faster and I wish that the systems we rely on for KIF1A therapeutic discovery could move faster too. Time is not on our side with KAND and we are working so hard in so many ways at KIF1A.ORG to change that. For me, it’s a balance that I find challenging: I need to balance the understanding that time is precious and allow that to motivate me while not spending too much time dwelling on the frustrations of time because, well, that takes up a lot of time as well!

What development are you most excited about in terms of KIF1A research?

How do I pick just one!? In the past year there have been a number of studies that merge our clinical understanding of KAND with the process of uncovering fundamental KIF1A characteristics that inform us about the role of KIF1A in human disease. This type of cross-specialty investigation is very impactful to our community and central to our mission at KIF1A.ORG. I look forward to seeing more studies like these in the future!

I couldn’t get through a day at work without:

Multiple cups of coffee! My slippers! And on a more serious note, the entire KIF1A.ORG team. They are a fantastic group of co-workers and I feel so privileged to have them as my teammates.

I am most motivated by:

I am motivated by discipline and the persistence/inspiration of others. I view discipline as having a solid base of habits that keep you going through challenges and unknown scenarios. Knowing I have a foundation of skills and behaviors that have historically helped me progress forward makes me more motivated to try more complex and unknown tasks. Being part of the KAND community, I am surrounded by so many inspiring stories of persistence and tenacity! All of these stories are my “why” and motivate me every single day.

When you are not studying KIF1A, what do you do?

When not working, I love to move my body. I have a very hard time sitting still! I love being outdoors: running, hiking or just going on a nice walk. Right now it is winter in Vermont so I have been snowshoeing in the woods before work. I also am an avid weightlifter and fitness enthusiast. If you find me sitting still outside of work hours, I’m probably researching a new house project to dive into.

How has COVID impacted your daily work routine?

I started working for KIF1A.ORG right when COVID shut everything down in the US. For me, COVID life has always been my KIF1A.ORG work life! One aspect that I miss a lot about my previous work routine is the ability to do work in coffee shops. I love working in that type of environment with background noise and scenery changes every few minutes.