Q: What is your background and more specifically, what accomplishments have led you to where you are now?
A: I was born and raised in the East New York section of Brooklyn, NY. My neighborhood and background definitely don’t scream “scientist.” East New York is sadly a poor and violent area, especially during the 80’s when I grew up.
I was determined to get out of that environment and help my family to do the same, mostly because of the environment and the lack of opportunities there for upward mobility. Living in Bellevue now and looking back to where I grew up certainly has been a humbling experience.
Seeing the effects of the War on Drugs firsthand instilled a curiosity and fascination with drug interactions, and understanding how they worked in the body and could alter behavior or internal chemistry. However, I didn’t think of organic chemistry as a career path until I took a course while pursuing my undergraduate degree at Binghamton and later Stony Brook University. I found drug development and design and their physiological interactions on the body intriguing, and something about doing this kind of work just clicked with me. After undergrad I thought a logical next step was medical school, but I wasn’t actually that interested in becoming a medical doctor.
It was important for me to leverage my education as best I could, and I wanted to make a decision that would be fulfilling, as well as financially wise in order to help my family. While I was mulling over what to do, I ended up working construction in New York City as well as part-time at an auto sales and accessories shop. I was making a living wage, but I wasn’t using my education or skills directly. It was at this time that I made the decision to continue my education and ended up going to graduate school at the Universities of Iowa and Kansas, ultimately earning my PhD in 2010.
During graduate school, I was offered an internship and research opportunity at the pharmaceutical company Alkermes. I did opioids research (also the subject of my dissertation), and my four-week internship turned into a month, and then two months. Eventually, I needed to make a decision as to whether I was going to go back to Kansas and finish out with my Masters or continue on for a PhD. I decided to focus on my PhD in organic chemistry with the idea of returning to Alkermes. Unfortunately, after I completed my dissertation defense the option of continuing work with Alkermes was no longer on the table, so I instead began working at the University of Kansas Cancer Center doing research on breast and prostate cancer in partnership with The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). I eventually transitioned from the Midwest to La Jolla, Calif. and continued my work at TSRI.
While I loved testing compounds in vivo and was lucky enough to have several compounds I designed tested in rats, monkeys, and humans, I was strongly considering academia, since I really enjoyed exploring organic chemistry concepts and teaching. I am also really passionate about designing drugs or probes from naturally occurring molecules and I love being able to answer the question “Why does y bind to x particular receptor and what effect does it have?”
I can’t remember the details of the job description I applied for at IV Lab, but I remember being extremely impressed during the interview process. When I took a tour of the facilities, saw all the equipment and laboratories, and was briefed on all the on-going projects, I was even more sold on it. However, the best part to me was that IV Lab had an incredible set of values. It wasn’t limited in the ways that I saw academia and the pharmaceutical industry to be. IV Lab is unique in that the value of a project was premised on neither its academic relevance nor its profitability exclusively. It seemed like a place where I could really pursue interesting projects and contribute to something deeply meaningful, while also getting to live in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest!
Q: What do you bring to the Lab? What is your specialty or area of expertise?
A: In addition to my expertise in medicinal and organic chemistry along with pharmacology, I bring energy and enthusiasm about all science to IV Lab. I’m always excited about expanding my skill set, and IV Lab provides me with a great environment to do that in. Since there are so many scientists and engineers among us, we have access to a really varied pool of knowledge and skills. Asking the same question can produce all sorts of methods and toolsets for solving it, depending on who you ask.
Q: What do you do at IV Lab?
A: Currently I am a part of several research projects including Malaria Diagnostics and Tuberculosis (TB) Diagnostics, sample prep for both the previously mentioned projects, and the artificial mosquito diet. Like everyone else at IV Lab, I’m indirectly involved in a lot of projects to consult on problems that my expertise is relevant to.
Q: Of the projects you have worked on at IV Lab, which one is your favorite?
A: While all the projects I have been part of during my time at IV Lab have been interesting, I would say that the TB Diagnostics project has been my favorite. I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to improve sample prep for TB Diagnostics and it has been deceptively challenging in a variety of ways. While preparing the samples in a lab is one thing, the real key is figuring out how to do something that is transferable to a low-resource or low-tech environment, where diagnostic tools are most needed and where cost differentials matter the most. To this point, I have been exploring the most advanced techniques to maximize processing and analyzing sputum efficiently while minimizing complexity and cost.
Q: Who was an important influence along your path?
A: I’ve been very fortunate to have several great influences during my journey. Without a doubt, my parents were the biggest influence and support for me. I wanted to achieve for them, not just myself. My uncle was probably the first person who I saw in a STEM field – he was an engineer. It was inspiring to see that he had money to support his family and have nice things, but was also doing something personally rewarding and socially productive. Professionally, my graduate and post-doctoral mentors were significant influences, as well as my former supervisors and mentors while I worked in pharma.
Q: Who is your favorite scientist, engineer, or inventor?
A: My favorite engineer or inventor is probably Paul Rosche. I am a big car guy, and he was instrumental in designing and developing new engines that eventually led to the development of the BMW M division.
My two favorite scientists are Percy Julian and R.B. Woodward. Julian was one of the first African-Americans to receive a PhD in Chemistry and he had a tremendous scientific career including holding 130 chemical patents, including a patent for the production of cortisone and one for the recovery of sterols from plant material.
Woodward is possibly the greatest organic chemist of all time. His contributions to modern organic chemistry are tremendous. He was responsible for several ground breaking total syntheses which were brilliantly executed including strychnine, reserpine, and the monstrous B12 along with mentoring a multitude of some of the most distinguished chemists today.
Q: What are you reading right now? Business or pleasure.
A: Currently for pleasure I am reading the Matarese Countdown by Robert Ludlum and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast. I just finished reading All the Devils are Here by Bethany McLean and The Unwinding by George Packer. Both were fantastic reads.
While I have a love for the fun and intrigue of spy fiction, I have always been fascinated in the ways that finance on micro and macro scales works. The financial systems we all participate in make up a large part of how the world works, and plays into the underlying structure of social life. Understanding how systems like this work I think plays to my interest in understanding how the human body responds as a system to different events.