Brian Hawkins, PhD

Brian Hawkins 500x500

Hometown
Reading, PA

Current Residence
West Chester, PA

Graduate Degree
PhD

Current Position
Chief Technology Officer, Pluristyx, Inc.

What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?

Pluristyx aims to democratize stem cells by turning them into an off-the-shelf raw material. To this end, my team and I are working on scalable solutions to derive, manufacture, characterize, and cryopreserve stem cells to drive down costs and accelerate research and next generation therapies.

How would you explain the significance of this work to a lay audience?

Working with stem cells is an expensive proposition that requires specialized expertise and dedicated resources. Our work gives scientists access to high-quality stem cells on-demand, allowing them to focus their time and talents on fundamental developmental questions and on differentiation into target cells such as nerve, heart, and pancreatic cells.

What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

I have always been a tinkerer and was drawn to cell biology to understand how the body worked. I broke cells down even further through formal training in mitochondrial biology and metabolism. Stem cells are exquisitely sensitive to changes in metabolism, and so my research eventually led me to study how changes in metabolism influence cells during development and disease.  

What is the most exciting aspect of your work?

As a contract development company, Pluristyx is exposed to many groups with extremely varied and interesting technologies. Within the period a few months, my team may use stem cells to make anything from heart tissue to white blood cells. It is the challenge of developing these processes for companies intending move these technologies to the clinic is the most exciting part of our job.  

What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?

Move outside of your comfort zone and ask as many questions as possible. Doing so allows trainees to view their research in a different perspective and be creative. This is especially important with stem cells that can form any tissue in the body.  

Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?

I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Chuck Murry while I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington. At that time, Chuck was working on using stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes to treat heart failure, a technology that he has since spun out into Sana Biotechnology. 

How do you spend your free time?

In my spare time I like spending time with my family and friends, preferably outside and with a cold beverage.

What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you? 

I was not allowed to watch Penn State football games with my family as a kid because I yelled at the television too much.

What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?

The ability to maintain access to cutting edge stem cell science from leaders in the field.

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