Behind the scenes with Dave Fromholt

Dave and Komal
Dave Fromholt and lab technician Komal Parikh discuss the results of a tissue sample. Photo by Jesse S. Jones.
By Anne Riker Garlington

Why do colleagues call Dave Fromholt “Aunt Dave”? It’s an affectionate term, used to describe the conscientious laboratory manager who carefully explains to students what must be done and, more importantly, why it should be completed a certain way.

It’s an important job because if certain protocols are not followed, it could affect the outcome of the research, as well as the reputation of the lab.

Fromholt manages the neuroscience lab of Gordon Mitchell, Ph.D., a professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions and director of the UF Center for Breathing Research and Therapeutics.

“Dave holds it all together and his work could not be more important in advancing neuroscience research and the translations of those discoveries to find new treatments for spinal cord injury and ALS,” said Mitchell, also a deputy director of the UF McKnight Brain Institute.

In addition, Fromholt “trains the young graduate students and postdocs that represent the next generation of scientific and clinical leaders,” Mitchell said.

microscopy machine
Fromholt shared an image of an immunohistochestry (IHC) stained spinal cord after a treatment that causes inflammation of the tissue. The different colors correspond to different cell types within the tissue with a lot of background (non-targeted) staining in the red color.

Fromholt’s background includes teaching high school science, working in a gun shop, and managing a research lab at Johns Hopkins University, where he learned procurement and administrative tasks such as environmental health and safety.

“The gun shop job actually helped prepare me for understanding the importance of following government guidelines, which is an essential part of managing any lab,” Fromholt said.

In 2005, Fromholt came to UF and transitioned in 2010 to help open the Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease, housed in the College of Medicine. He joined Mitchell’s lab in 2020.

A big part of his role is to create lab procedures that work for as many people as possible with the fewest disruptions.

There is no such thing as a typical day, Fromholt said. Making sure supplies are ordered is important, but first and foremost is ensuring everyone adheres to scientific protocols and are in compliance with federal, state and university policies/rules.

“I’m showing the graduate students how to run a lab,” Fromholt said. “They may not need it now, but that knowledge will help them with their future positions.”

Indeed, former students often call Fromholt to tell him he was right, and they are now implementing rules and instructing students in their labs to follow them.

“The funny part is, those were often the students who were most frustrated by those rules,” Fromholt said.

Fromholt sees his role like a camp counselor, lab dad and big brother who is there when the students need someone to talk to or bounce ideas off. He said he tries to keep things on an even keel, which is both challenging and fun.

“The exciting and motivating part that I come to work for is helping the students do their science and get to where they need to for their Ph.D. or future careers,” Fromholt said.

According to those who work with him, Fromholt is one of the everyday heroes working in the background to ensure smooth operations without any fanfare.

“Since day one, Dave has created a safe space for students to learn and grow,” said Komal Parikh, a laboratory technician who works with Fromholt. “He has been a positive, fun encouraging person to work with, and I’m honored to have had a lab manager that cares about our lab so much.”