Meet the researchers: Dr. Alan Goodman

Alan Goodman, an associate professor in the chool of Molecular Biosciences in Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, poses with vials of flies that he uses in his research in Pullman.
Alan Goodman, an associate professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences in Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, poses for a photo with vials of flies that he uses in his research, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Pullman. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

Dr. Alan Goodman is leading research in the College of Veterinary Medicine into the immune response to infectious pathogens like Coxiella burnetii and West Nile virus. Goodman joined the college in 2014 and currently serves as an associate professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences and as an affiliate faculty member in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health.

Prior to coming to WSU, Goodman completed a doctorate in bioengineering at the University of Washington and Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

What are your current research interests and what attracted you to that area?

Our lab studies how an infectious pathogen causes the host it infects to respond to the infection. By understanding this, we can think about ways to intervene and help the body fight off the infection better, or we can devise ways to stop the body from being infected in the first place. But to accomplish this, we must first know what happens during the infection process.

When I was in my first year of grad school, I took a molecular virology course. I really enjoyed learning about all the ways that viruses replicate and have evolved mechanisms to thwart the body’s own immune response. Because I took this class, I found an influenza virology lab for my last rotation. I really enjoyed the research I did during this 10-week period and the vitality of the lab. I’ve worked with infectious diseases and immunology ever since.

How can your research help people and animals?

We study zoonotic pathogens, namely Coxiella burnetii and West Nile virus. Coxiella infects ruminant animals that can be passed to humans. Since there is no vaccine for Coxiella infection and infection can lead to chronic disease that takes years of antibiotic treatment, we want to figure out how to activate innate immune responses to inhibit infection before it reaches chronic state. For our West Nile virus research, we identified that insulin signaling activates innate immunity in the mosquitoes that transmit it. We also showed that pharmacological activation of these immune pathways could inhibit the number of mosquitoes that become infected with the virus and lower the amount of infectious virus in the mosquito saliva. Therefore, if we could stimulate this type of immunity in the field when a mosquito bites you, it would deliver less virus and you’d have a lower chance of being able to fight off the infection.

What do you enjoy about working with students?

In the lab, I enjoy seeing students take ownership of their projects and come up with ideas that I would never have thought of. When they do this, I get to watch them have their “ah-ha” or “eureka!” moments. These bursts of enthusiasm keep all of us motivated to accomplish our goals. In the classroom, I enjoy seeing students act like sponges of information, taking it all in, and separating the clean from the dirty. After they process what I’m teaching them, then they ask me the difficult questions. I enjoyed getting stumped by the students and having to come back to the next class with an answer.

What motivates you outside of work?

My family and my hobbies. We love to experience all this region has to offer, indoors or outdoors. So, when not in the lab, we want to make time to give our kids these experiences. Since one of the best ways to explore locally is to drive, I’m also motivated by tinkering with cars to enjoyably get us from one place to another. When not working on that hobby, I like to watch sports and play video games with my kids.

What advice would you give to younger people considering a career in science?

Be persistent and have tough skin. I think we fall in love with science after doing a simple experiment that has some really cool results. But the deeperr you deep, the harder and more complicated the experiments will be. The results may not be so straight forward. You may have to do it again or tweak something to get clean results or the experiment to work. This can be exhausting at times. But that’s why it’s called scientific “re”search, right?

Why did you choose to come to WSU?

I grew up in a small town in central New York. There are three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. We have four seasons. Camping in the Adirondacks and finding a lake to swim in is readily accessible. There are half a dozen ski areas within a two-hour drive. You can ride your bike anywhere to go exploring. Sure sounds a lot like Pullman, right? When I interviewed here and met the great faculty members in the School of Molecular Biosciences, I knew this would be a great place to do research. And what better place to live and raise a family than a place just like where you grew up?