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Game Changer: Dr. Susan K. Buchanan

Game Changers

/gām/ /‘CHānjər/

An individual, group, or organization that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.

Game Changers are institution builders. They forge partnerships to revolutionize organizational culture, policy, and procedure. They encourage decision makers to go beyond the “tactical” towards the “strategic." They cultivate and harness the creative ideas that inspire new paradigms throughout the Agency, fueling innovation and advancing its mission. They uphold equity, diversity, and inclusion, and they are true business imperatives that make up our organizational fabric and operationalize these concepts as part of their overall leadership strategy.




  • a type of activity or business
  • an organization’s (or person’s) standard or method of play
  • a mode of performance




  • one who makes something different
  • one who alters the terms or transforms them entirely
  • one who arrives (or makes others arrive) at a fresh phase; become new
Do you know a game changer?
Dr. Susan K. Buchanan

Dr. Susan K. Buchanan, Ph.D. is a research scientist in the intramural program, running her own research group of about 8 people. In addition, she is the Chief of Molecular Biology, where she oversees 9 other research groups as one of only two women Lab/Branch Chiefs in in the National Institute for Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She was recently promoted to Deputy Scientific Director at NIDDK.

Dr. Buchanan has been involved in the promotion of women in leadership positions for many years and served as the chair of the Women Scientists Advisors (WSA) from 2012 to 2014 and still serves on the executive committee. The WSA represents tenure track and tenured women scientists in the intramural program, with the goals of recruiting, retaining, and promoting women in the intramural program.

Dr. Buchanan received her Ph.D. from the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe Universität in Frankfurt, Germany in 1990. She completed postdoctoral fellowships at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, and at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, before returning to the UK to establish a research group at Birkbeck College, London in 1998. She joined the NIDDK as a tenure track investigator in 2001, was tenured in 2008, and was promoted to Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, NIDDK, in 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to Deputy Scientific Director, NIDDK.

The focus of research in the Buchanan lab is the structure determination of integral membrane proteins by X-ray crystallography and functional analysis of these proteins using biophysical, biochemical, and cell biological techniques. They study transporters embedded in the outer membranes of Gram-negative bacteria, which are surface accessible and therefore have the potential to be a good vaccine and/or chemotherapeutic targets against infectious diseases. They also study the membrane-associated or soluble protein partners that interact with outer membrane transporters to better understand how these systems function in vivo. Current topics in the lab include [1] small molecule and protein import across the bacterial outer membrane, [2] outer membrane protein biogenesis, and [3] protein import across mitochondrial outer membranes.

Dr. Buchanan shares some words on how she stays grounded, what advice has encouraged her, and personal and professional accomplishments:

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Set high expectations for yourself. Take every opportunity to learn new techniques and educate yourself, so that when an opportunity arises, you are fully prepared to take advantage.

What strategies do you use to get the best results from your team?

I hire people who are motivated, self-confident, and intellectually curious. Each member of my team has his/her own project, so they can be responsible for their success, while also helping and learning from others in the group.

What do you do to center yourself?

Hobbies are important for me, such as running and baking. International travel is essential too.

What was your most exciting personal and/or professional achievement?

Personal: I hiked to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2013

Professional: Through a combination of X-ray crystallography, microbiology, and biochemistry, we discovered a new way to treat bacterial infections, adding a novel tool to the arsenal of antibiotics and anti-bacterial agents. With multi-drug resistance bacterial infections on the rise, this is much needed research.

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