What do you do?
I am a stem cell scientist trying to develop a new drug. I am putting anti-inflammatory stem cells in an oral capsule to treat inflammation. Kind of in the same way we put "probiotic" bacteria in a pill. To make drugs you need FDA approval. To get FDA approval you need to show the FDA that the way you make your drug is safe and consistent. You also need to show in at least 4 clinical trials that the drug is safe and more effective than the drugs we use now. All of this is very expensive ~$3-15 billion! It also takes about 10-12 years from the lab idea to market. So I spend a lot of my time trying to find investors!
Why did you choose this field?
I always loved math and science. I also wanted to use what I learned in science to help make better drugs for sick people. Back when I finished college, I was told if I wanted to have a family it was probably best to get a PhD and not an MD. I got my PhD in Microbiology and then worked on cancer research at the National Institutes of Health. I learned that stem cells got recruited to make blood vessels to help tumors grow. I then discovered that the special signals that make stem cells go to the tumors could also be used to "educate" stem cells outside of the body. We could use that education to our advantage. By using that signal, I turned a pool of stem cells able to do many things into them just being able to stop inflammation or anti-inflammatory--just like when you take Advil or Tylenol. So I decided to file a patent on this trick and launched a start-up. That is how I got into the business of making cell drugs.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
When I started a biotech to develop stem cell therapies, I realized there are a lot more jobs for PhDs than just being faculty at a University. You can work in industry or start-ups, you can work for investors, or for all of the businesses that support all these start-ups like those that run animal studies or engineering concepts. So many possibilities outside Academia!
Why do you love working in STEM?
I loved how creative it is. You have to think outside the box to solve most problems everyday! I love the idea that one day I can help sick person feel better with a drug I developed!
Best advice for next generation?
Make smart choices! Don't be scared to do something different. As long as you are doing something you love you will have the energy to tackle any hurdle--whether that is a sexist, racist boss or tough working environment.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
― Calvin Coolidge