Meet the researcher: Richard Bouffard, Virscio

DDW’s Megan Thomas looks at a day in the life of Richard Bouffard, Histology Director at Virscio. 

MT: Where do you work, and can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

RB: I’m the Histology Director of the histology lab that performs subsequent histopathologic testing and analysis for our in vivo work as well as samples derived from outside our organisation, Virscio.  

We are a contract research organisation (CRO), with a focus on ocular and central nervous system (CNS) in vivo studies in nonhuman primates, as well as general safety, tolerability, and investigatory work across all tissue types. Common areas of research for us include wet and dry AMD, glaucoma, ischemic stroke, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, although the complete list is very broad.  

MT: Where do you think the biggest opportunities are in this field?

RB: There is tremendous demand for preclinical histopathology, so there is no shortage of work. From a personal development perspective, it is an excellent blend of manual technique, high-tech instrumentation, application of basic science, investigation into translational models, and interaction with intelligent and visionary thinkers. Every day one learns something. 

MT: What are the challenges you face in taking research to market, and how have you begun to address them?

RB: As a CRO, we aren’t bringing our research to market per se, but we are instrumental in helping other organisations assess test articles in their development pipeline at various stages. We also do our own internal model development and characterisations. Working with eye specimens, we oftentimes must demonstrate very small targets in the retina. Through development and iteration, we have landed on some interesting and reproducible techniques to help us not ‘miss the targets.’ 

MT: What industry-wide innovation or breakthrough holds the potential to be most impactful to research?

RB: As for our sponsors’ research, I would say gene therapies and mAb therapies have a lot of potential! I think they have tremendous promise to address certain diseases or far-progressed diseases of which, up until now, other interventions have fallen short. 

As for us at Virscio, our processes and ability to generate and interpret data through artificial intelligence and sophisticated image analysis techniques. We can generate solid data, but computer-assisted and AI-enabled analysis techniques can mine that data much faster — and oftentimes more accurately — than any one person or team of people can. 

A good example of how we are tapping into this potential is through our investment in digital pathology. A single whole slide image contains millions, if not billions, of pixels that can be analysed. We deployed Proscia’s Concentriq for Research platform to sit at the centre of our digital pathology operations, enabling us to introduce image analysis applications into our routine workflows. The results are then incorporated alongside all of our other data so that our team can make more informed decisions. 

MT: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

RB: There have been many high points, but my biggest career highlight, so far, would be being able to walk into a mostly empty room and build a histopathology laboratory from the ground up. 

MT: What has been the best piece of career advice you have received?

RB: I was speaking with a friend and mentor regarding general career advice, as I was at a junction where I was considering traveling down a certain career path. The choice I was considering would have meant going down a rather ‘terminal’ route; I would be doing substantially the same job in perpetuity with very little opportunity to grow or branch out. Some people want that, and it is a completely respectable decision.   

His said that we often ask people what they want to do for the rest of their career or life, and his response was, “Nothing! I don’t want to do any one thing with the rest of my life.” His advice was to always have sufficient latitude to grow and get involved in things one finds interesting and worthwhile while having a career and expertise that enables that. 

MT: What advice would you offer someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

RB: I would tell them that mentorship is critical. Experience is important, but ultimately, results are the metrics by which we are judged. Having mentor(s) who have walked a similar road and have similar values is indispensable, because they can aid to fill in experience gaps.

I would also advise them that there is no substitute for hard work, but efficient and focused hard work is better. In addition, have a diverse skill set and interests. Expertise in a field is important, but having familiarity and some proficiency with processes adjacent to those one performs is incredibly valuable.  It imparts a deeper understanding to one’s particular expertise and makes collaboration easier.  And just because one is a ‘scientist’ does not mean one cannot be interested in things outside of ‘hard science’. I enjoy cooking, hiking, philosophy, language, repairs, and woodworking to name a few. Balance is key. I believe I was the best student when I was studying molecular biology —and Italian —simultaneously.

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