Building New Medicines
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Janssen Research & Development
Please explain your research in simple words
As a biomedical engineer, I'm interested in ways that we can use the latest understanding of science on every scale--from proteins, to protein complexes, to subcellular organelles, to cells, to tissues, to organs, and to the whole organism--to design and improve drug delivery technologies to enable the next generation of medicines.
Monday - Let's get to know each other
Tuesday - Intracellular drug delivery
Wednesday - Engineering in a biologists world
Thursday - Career chat
Friday - Ask me anything and #FollowFriday!
What can the followers expect in your curation week?
How did you end up in your current research field?
Across my career, I've typically taken the most interesting path ahead of me. As an undergraduate, I worked in a tissue engineering lab where I studied composite materials. I had the opportunity to learn about computational image analysis through an elective and then did summer research with that professor, where we used micro-computed tomography to investigate particle distribution in composites. When I was applying to graduate school, I knew I wanted to continue in biomedically focused research to improve human health, so I joined a drug delivery lab. In that lab, I studied the molecular mechanisms underpinning why one of our nanoparticles worked so well at delivering its drug to the cytosol of cells. From there, I became really interested in drug carrier / nanoparticle mediated endosomal escape and how we could study this process further. Throughout that time, I learned a lot about the cutting edge of what industry was doing to enable new drug modalities. Essentially, I've always kept one eye towards doing interesting science, and the other eye on addressing gaps in medicine.
The lab in which I did my PhD creates nanoscale drug carriers, so I've thought a lot about how nanoparticles self-assemble and disassemble, and how these nanoparticles interact with cellular and endosomal membranes. Now, I think a lot about how individual antibodies (a protein) interact with the world around them inside the body. A typical antibody is about 15 nm across, 9 nm tall, and 4 nm thick, Y-shaped, and quite floppy at its hinges.
How and where does your research fall in the domain of materials/nano science?
Which research project are you most proud of and could you explain it in simple words in the section we call #InOtherwords?
Most recently, we developed a new assay to measure endosomal disruption in live cells. Basically, endosomal escape is one step towards nanoparticle drug carriers delivering their payload inside cells. It's a really important process, but there weren't good tools to study it. We created genetically modified cell lines which express two proteins tagged with fragments of the luciferase enzyme. When the two fragments combine, they catalyze the breakdown of luciferin into photons, which we can measure with a really sensitive camera.
I'll speak about the PhD process specifically. I think there's a tremendous power imbalance between PhD students and their PIs in a way that doesn't exist in any other job. I think PhD students are generally underpaid, especially when it comes to benefits (healthcare, dental, vision, 401k). Unlike other jobs, if you're unhappy with work conditions, you can't just leave, because then you won't get your PhD.
If you had 3 wishes to improve your research experience, what would you ask for (not promising anything here!)?
What are you most looking forward to in the next 3 months?
Scientifically, I have some exciting experiments planned that I unfortunately can't discuss. Personally, I'm flying to New York to see one of my best friends (@Tyler_DiStefano) and go to a Celine Dion concert.
Which challenges/questions is the nano/materials science field facing at the moment?
I think that nanoscience is not living up to the hype in terms of delivering tangible benefits to society. Especially for publicly funded science, we should accept that responsibility very seriously and think deeply about the problems that society faces. Science for the sake of knowledge is lovely, but there are dire problems out there that need solutions.