What led you to choose science and/or engineering as a career, particularly in the medical device field?
I have always been fascinated by how fundamental science can lead to impactful technologies. When I learned about how CRISPR — an ancient immune system that bacteria use to fight against viruses — could be repurposed for genome editing, I was inspired to start my PhD in the lab of Jennifer Doudna, who recently received the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her pioneering work in CRISPR gene editing. During my PhD training, I investigated the underlying mechanisms of CRISPR enzymes and collaborated with other scientists to discover and engineer next-generation genome editing and diagnostic tools. I realized that starting a company would be one of the best ways to transform these scientific innovations into life-changing products, and after receiving my PhD, I co-founded Mammoth Biosciences to deliver on the potential of CRISPR.
What has been your most rewarding moment/accomplishment as an engineer/scientist in the medical field?
During my third year in the Doudna Lab, I came across the unexpected finding that some CRISPR proteins could detect DNA. What initially seemed like a failed experiment actually turned out to be a novel method for molecular diagnostics. I wanted to demonstrate this new CRISPR diagnostics method on real samples, so I cold-emailed physicians at UCSF in hopes of working with a collaborator who could provide clinical samples. Dr. Joel Palefsky, an HPV expert, graciously offered to provide blinded HPV clinical samples and space in his laboratory to set up our CRISPR diagnostic test. When we compared our results with the gold-standard PCR test, I was thrilled to see that CRISPR method detected the positive HPV samples with almost perfect accuracy. In that moment, I knew there would be huge potential with CRISPR diagnostics, and it has been the journey of a lifetime to build on this core technology ever since that initial discovery.
What advice would you give to other women looking to work in biomedical engineering and science?
Find good mentors. Be fearless, challenge yourself, and have an open mind. Seize new opportunities and work towards teamwork and collaboration. Own and learn from your mistakes. It is an exciting time to be in science and technology!
Are there other insights you would like to share?
I’ve had the unique opportunity to be trained by female principal investigators in almost all of my academic research experiences, from undergraduate through graduate school. It was by coincidence that these exciting scientific opportunities were led by women, all of whom have also been important mentors and role models throughout the stages of my career. I am grateful for their support and am passionate about empowering the next generation of female scientists and entrepreneurs.
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