Student Spotlight: Kris Short

Kris Short working in a laboratory, seated at a lab work station.

Kris Short is a Ph.D. candidate in toxicology in the Center for Environmental Health Science. He researches under Dr. David Burkhart in the Center for Translational Medicine, which is a multidisciplinary team of chemists, formulation scientists, and immunologists at the University of Montana. His thesis focuses on using nanoparticle technology to formulate tuberculosis and universal influenza vaccines.


I ended up liking science and liking technology when I was in High School and kinda always pursued that as a path. And, I also had this interest and curiosity about human biology and also this interest in being inventive.

My name is Kris Short and I’m a Ph.D. student in the Center for Environmental Health Science and I work with the Center for Translational Medicine.

I was always asking myself like, "why does this work, why does this work, why does this work," and biochemistry for me allowed me to dig down into detail about how in this case human biology works. Um, and in that process I got interested in doing research so I volunteered as an undergrad doing research in a virology lab where I was able to make some viruses as a tool to study viruses, um, and from there I was pretty much hooked.

After undergrad I got a job as a staff scientist or research technician in a human biology lab. Uh, at first I studied the effects of smoking in lung tissue, which seems pretty obvious, but when you kinda drill down into the molecular portion, so at the human cell level it gets pretty interesting. So, I always stayed in this human biology realm. I still had this passion of not only trying to figure out how things work, but trying to use that information to apply it to something like medicine or some kind of a technology.

I had an opportunity to eventually come to Montana and when I researched the program and the professors within the program, uh, I definitely thought I could find a good fit for myself. And I also like the University of Montana because it offers a lot of outdoor activities that I enjoy. The fact that you could bring fly fishing gear onto campus and on the north side of campus go fly fishing. Right. Like, Missoula just gives me the opportunity to live a really balanced life and get after it outdoors.

The program is toxicology and the research I do is with a group called the Center for Translational Medicine. It’s an interdisciplinary group, so we have chemists, formulation scientists, and immunologists and we work together to make vaccines against infectious diseases like influenza and tuberculosis, and also opioids, and pertussis, which is whooping cough.

We make vaccines from the ground up, so we literally design most of the components within the vaccines, put them together in a formulation, and then we test it in immunology models. So, uh, my place in that is in formulations. Formulations is taking the chemical compounds that chemistry makes and literally putting them in a formulation that works as a vaccine.

My thesis is, uh, formulating two different vaccines, one of them for influenza and one for tuberculosis. What it means is I get to study both of those diseases, but I also get to be inventive and, uh, sort of be creative and test out ideas for new formulations. Some of the downfalls of the modern flu vaccine is the way that the modern flu vaccines are produced requires months of manufacturing and in the months of manufacturing the flu strain that ends up, um, kinda going around the world can transform, so it can evolve into something that's slightly different. So because of that, there’s a space to improve the flu vaccine which is what we're trying to do. Were trying to create vaccines that could potentially be a universal flu vaccine.

I’m inspired to do this work by the massive complex problems. But when you get up everyday and you're working on a vaccine that could really make a difference, um, it makes it pretty easy to get up.