Eye on CDI: From Toxicology to Data Science

By Scott Auerbach posted 10-26-2023 11:56 AM


This blog joins others in “Eye on CDI series that features the career paths of individuals who started in toxicology as students in the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program and are now in the scientific workforce. This blog features input by Trey Saddler, and I am pleased to share this story on his behalf.

Trey Saddler is one of the rare scientists who didn’t enjoy science growing up. He avoided science until Dr. Doug Stevens brought Trey into his Environmental Chemistry Lab at Salish Kootenai College (SKC). After researching and presenting on methylmercury levels in the hair of Native American women of child-bearing age and mercury/selenium levels in lake trout, Trey would find his passion for science.

Dr. Stevens also encouraged Trey to apply for the 2013 SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program, where Trey presented a poster on mercury level in Maine seals. For a summer internship in 2013, Dr. Stevens introduced Trey to Dr. Darlene Dixon. Trey performed research on the effects of tetrabromobisphenol A in human endometrial cells in Dr. Dixon’s Mechanistic Toxicology lab. Trey continued working in Dr. Steven’s lab during the school year but also finished summer internships at US Environmental Protection Agency in Region 9, working on establishing a Tribal Indoor Air Quality and Health Network, and in Region 10 on Federal and Tribal Fishery and Hatchery. Trey also enjoyed the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program so much that he returned as a peer mentor in March 2015.

After graduating from SKC in 2015, Trey returned to Dr. Dixon’s lab as a postbac. After working with her for a year, Dr. Dixon recognized that Trey’s real passion was working with computers. She had Trey talk with Dr. Mike DeVito, who recommended that Trey work with Dr. Scott Auerbach. While working with Dr. Auerbach, Trey learned and applied various data analysis tools, including R, Shiny, ggplot, and SQL. Trey wrote various tools and pipelines used internally in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Division of Translational Toxicology (DTT).

Trey (middle) with Dr. Linda Birnbaum (left)
and Dr. Darlene Dixon (right)

At the conclusion of his postbac, Dr. Auerbach introduced Trey to Dr. Charles Schmitt in the Office of Data Science (ODS) at NIEHS. Trey worked in ODS for three years as a data scientist contractor and continued to develop his analytics skills, as well as learning linux administration, containerization, devops, how to work with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BioWulf supercomputer, and other associated skills.

Under a reorganization of DTT, Trey was moved back to working with Dr. Auerbach and Dr. David Reif in the Predictive Toxicology Branch. Since the beginning of 2023, Trey, Dr. Auerbach and Dr. Reif have been developing a project called ToxPipe, which uses AI and retrieval augmented generation to help toxicologists parse and explore multi-omic data more easily. Trey applied for and received $150,000 from a funding proposal request to explore the use of cloud computing for NIH Intramural Research. Trey also started his MS in data analytics from Western Governors University in October 2023 and hopes to finish in time to attend grad school in the second-half of 2024 for data science, where he would continue his work on using AI to advance toxicological and life science research.

Trey’s scientific career has allowed him to explore various domains of science, but there will always be a soft spot in his heart for toxicology and the many toxicologists who guided and advised him along the way. Trey especially wants to recognize Dr. Linda Birnbaum for her continuing mentorship and guidance over the years. Trey’s favorite scientific conference continues to be the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo.