What are your current research interests and/or what is a project you are currently working on?
My research program investigates fundamental material-cell interactions to guide the development of targeted drug and cell delivery systems for applications in tissue regeneration and cancer therapies. At this intersection of cancer and regenerative medicine lies the dysfunctional inflammatory mechanisms that propagate tumor development and hinder functional tissue/wound healing. My research seeks to understand the role of specific immune cells and inflammatory mechanisms in tissue pathology and develop therapeutic approaches to direct inflammatory mechanisms in a site-specific manner. For a given application, we engineer biomaterials to enable therapeutic cells or molecules to overcome specific physiological barriers so they can successfully reach their tissue target.
Our current work in cancer focuses on understanding how the tumor microenvironment impacts the functions of immune cells, specifically natural killer cells, and developing strategies to overcome natural killer cell immunosuppression to destroy tumors.
How did you end up going into medicine and/or why did you decide on your specialty?
I was a chemical engineer working in the oil and gas industry my first year post-graduation. I loved engineering but wanted to direct my technical background to more altruistic endeavors. At the time, I saw an article on tissue engineering in the magazine Popular Science and became fascinated. As I started researching the field, I become more passionate about pursuing biomedical engineering and decided to go to graduate school. My training was initially in tissue engineering and then transitioned to cancer nanotechnology over time. My program has converged at the intersection of these two fields.
Who or what has inspired you to pursue this career?
There are many people and experiences that have influenced my decision to pursue a career in academic science. I worked on a biotech start-up after completing my Ph.D. for several years, and, while I enjoyed the experience, I missed the freedom to pursue my own research questions. I also recall attending the retirement party of one of my professors and being overwhelmed by how many of his students and trainees he had mentored over his career returned for the event. It impressed on me the impact a professor can have on the personal and professional development of others and how rewarding a career in academia could be. I also draw inspiration from the interactions with patients for whom existing treatment options are sorely inadequate and are anxious for new biomedical advances.
What do you want to achieve with your work and/or in your career?
Ultimately, I hope to translate the knowledge and technologies generated by our research into better therapeutic strategies for traumatic injury, degenerative diseases and cancer.
What excites you about your work? What is exciting to you about your field right now?
The cancer immunotherapy field is incredibly exciting, as recent advances have shown promising results in many difficult-to-treat cancers. I think there are many opportunities for engineers to contribute to this exciting field.
What do you like to do outside of work?
These days, playing with my two sons, ages 6 and 8 – we enjoy many outdoor sports and activities.