Lisa Bouchier-Hayes, PhD


Dr. Lisa Bouchier-Hayes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, section of Hematology-Oncology at Baylor College of Medicine. A native of Ireland, she was awarded her Ph.D. from the Department of Genetics at Trinity College, Dublin and completed post-doctoral fellowships in molecular mechanisms of apoptosis at La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in San Diego and at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Bouchier-Hayes is an R01-funded, prolifically published investigator and recipient of many honors and awards, including, most recently, the 2019 Norton Rose Fulbright Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching and Evaluation and 2019 Young Investigator Award.

She has dedicated her career to understanding molecular mechanisms of programmed cell-death, with a particular interest in caspase-regulation. A short conversation with Dr. Bouchier-Hayes makes clear that she was made to do this work. Yet, her remarkable generosity—with her time, insight, know-how, scientific rigor, and collegial encouragement—set her apart from the rest just as much as do her investigative and academic accomplishments. In her (non-existent) “spare time,” Dr. Bouchier-Hayes has created a robust workshop program to propel junior investigators forward and support all faculty in their journeys toward discovery.

Perhaps Dr. Bouchier-Hayes’ first significant challenge was eschewing a seemingly pre-destined path.

“I come from a very medical family,” she explains. “My father was a prominent surgeon, my mother a doctor, my brother went off to med school…I was always talented in science and math, but knew I didn’t want to go the medical route,” she says.

So she let the game come to her.

“Junior year [of high school], we all went to have work experiences. I did research in a lab where my dad worked and thought it was a cool atmosphere—it was relaxed, but everyone was working hard—even though I had no idea what we were doing.”

Around the same time, Dr. Bouchier-Hayes saw a documentary about genetic engineering, and that sealed the deal. She began her undergraduate years knowing she wanted to focus on research.

During her junior year of college, Dr. Bouchier-Hayes won a scholarship to work at a major pharmaceutical company in the U.S.

“I didn’t love it,” she recalls. “But I got lots of experience being in a lab, and that’s where I caught the bug.”

Soon after, Dr. Bouchier-Hayes’ father—who was one of the first surgeons to go into research in Ireland—got interested in apoptosis, or cell death. His interest was catching; Dr. Bouchier-Hayes chose apoptosis for her review topic during her final year of university. “I got really into it,” she says, “and applied to the two people in Ireland who worked on apoptosis for my Ph.D.”

Academics proved a much better fit for Dr. Bouchier-Hayes than did Big Pharma.

“Academics give you the freedom to follow wherever the research is going, instead of where the money is going,” she said.

She knew that she wanted to experience being in a large lab in the U.S. And despite assuming that she’d head back to Ireland in relatively short order, labs, like most things, are bigger in Texas; Dr. Bouchier-Hayes made her home in the Texas Medical Center in 2011, and by all appearances, she never looked back.

Dr. Bouchier-Hayes’ work currently focuses on caspase-2—specifically, trying to figure out how this known tumor-suppressor does its work—and how and why inflammatory caspases activate in inflammatory immune diseases, like sickle-cell disease.

“What I love most about my lab is that it’s not disease-specific. I can look at the pathology of any disease I want and collaborate with investigators in all different fields,” she says. Like so many others who do this work, Dr. Bouchier-Hayes waves away the automaton-researcher stereotype: “I actually love microscopy because it brings out the artistic side of me—it’s all about taking pretty pictures,” she notes.

In addition to her talents in the lab, Dr. Bouchier-Hayes realized early on that she had a knack for teaching.

“One of my favorite parts of my job is working with students and post-docs, and being able to mentor them. My lab can’t be successful if the people in my lab aren’t successful,” she rightly says. “I find it gratifying to see them succeed.” Plus, “working with students keeps your brain alive. They ask you questions you couldn’t have thought of and inspire you to approach your own projects differently. And Baylor students especially are just so good and motivated.”

So, what’s the worst part of working in research?

“The uncertainty,” Dr. Bouchier-Hayes says quite certainly. “Are your grants going to get funded? Your paper published? Will your experiment work? That pressure never really goes away.” She smiles. “This field attracts people who put pressure on themselves.”

Dr. Bouchier-Hayes used these realizations as both data and motivation: they drove her to lead BCM’s monthly Specific Aims workshops.

“I felt at sea about grant-writing when I came here,” she recalls. “If I can shorten that time period for anyone and help them get their first grant faster, then I’m happy to do that.”

Mentoring seems as much a part of Dr. Bouchier-Hayes as does science itself. On the sad occasion of her father’s recent funeral, Dr. Bouchier-Hayes thought about her own legacy.

“Most of the people my father touched were students,” she observed. “He was a great surgeon, but he also trained people to be great surgeons—so his impact will live on in the future. I want to impact science and scientists; I want to make the research path a bit easier for others.”

Science, medicine, and Dr. Bouchier-Hayes’ students, collaborators and colleagues are all the better for this philosophy, and for her substantial talents.

“Research is hard,” she acknowledges, “but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Neither can we.

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