What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
During my graduate studies in regenerative medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, my primary focus was on cardiac regeneration. I studied the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying cardiomyocyte proliferation and used carbon-14 dating techniques to study the magnitude and dynamics of cardiac cell turnover in humans. While I have since transitioned out of academia, I make use of my scientific, technical, and interpersonal expertise in the biotech industry.
As Global Training Manager at CELLINK, the world’s leading 3D bioprinting company, I am responsible for the internal training of all of our staff, including scientists, engineers, salespeople, production personnel, and even finance professionals. In order to develop effective training programs for these variegated positions, it is essential for me to have a basic understanding of the scientific principles underpinning our technology, and also the team building skills to be able to collaborate with colleagues who are more experienced in certain fields than I. What I find most rewarding about this position is the opportunity to use my scientific background, my creative proclivities, and my interpersonal skills in equal measure to help my fellow employees reach their fullest potential. It gives me a deep sense of purpose to educate, and while corporate education never occurred to me as a career choice, I am grateful to have been afforded this opportunity to explore it.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
I was originally trained as a biological engineer at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, after which I began work as a laboratory assistant at the Cardiovascular Institute of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School. Under the exemplary tutelage of Dr. Saumya Das I actually began much of the experimentation that would form the basis of my doctoral thesis some years later. It was during this time that I decided to continue in academia, and accepted an invitation to continue my research as a doctoral student at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. I saw this as an excellent opportunity for personal as well as professional development. During my doctoral studies focused on cardiac regeneration, I was introduced to the concept of cardiac stem cells. While the therapeutic potential of these cells was, and still is quite contentious, I became intrigued with the concept of stem cells, the idea of the stem cell niche, and the potential of stem cell therapies.
This lead me to my first post-doctoral position as a sales and application specialist at BioLamina, an excellent Swedish biotech company focused on developing technology for animal component-free stem cell culture. There I further expanded my knowledge of stem cell biology, particularly regarding the astonishing ability of various laminin isoforms to influence stem cell pluriopotency and differentiation. Additionally, as this company was itself borne out of academic achievement, I gained first-hand experience in the commercialization of scientific discovery. This invaluable experience no doubt laid the groundwork for securing my current position.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
The most exciting aspects of my work are the ability to build a department from the ground up, to see my ideas take shape, and to watch as my colleagues develop skills that will propel them to new professional heights.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
I would tell trainees who are interested in corporate education to start exploring learning and development opportunities during their doctoral studies. The field is typically earmarked for HR professionals, but as the biotech industry continues to flourish, more and more scientifically-minded professionals will be needed to provide effective training in the more technological areas. Start researching corporate learning theory and the key components of adult learning. Also, since much more learning is done online or via video tutorials, I can say from experience that video production skills are very beneficial.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
My greatest mentor throughout my career has been Dr. Saumya Das. While I was at Harvard, he taught me the basics of molecular biology and encouraged my scientific curiosity by giving me responsibilities far beyond those of a simple lab tech. His own example as well as his confidence in me gave me the self-confidence to not only pursue a Ph.D., but to do so in a new country where I would experience a new culture and explore a new way of life.
During my doctoral studies in Sweden, Dr. Olga Shilkova, our senior lab manager, can be credited with teaching me almost everything I know about gene editing and transgenesis. But beyond that, she was a source of stability during a sometimes tumultuous journey, and a faithful friend.
I consider both of these individuals to be mentors to me. Perhaps not in any official capacity, but they certainly were, and still are, sources of inspiration.
How do you spend your free time?
In my free time I enjoy physical activities such as rugby, volleyball, and training at the gym. I like to read fiction and to watch science fiction, and I enjoy theater.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
Before my university studies I was involved in musical theater at a professional level from a young age. When it was time to apply to university, I had to decide whether to pursue the arts or the sciences. I chose the sciences, but I continued to perform throughout university. One of my recordings with the Cornell University Hangovers was even selected for the “Best of College A Cappella” album in 2009 and can be found on Spotify.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
For me, the most valuable aspect of ISSCR membership is the network. It has been a wonderful way for me to get to know other scientists in the field, and to gain new perspectives though high-minded conversations, not just about science, but about uncommon career paths, dealing with setbacks, navigating professional conflicts, graciously accepting opportunities, and evaluating (and re-evaluating) what success means to me. It has, quite frankly, been the single most concentrated source of scientific and personal inspiration that I have ever experienced.