Scientist of the Month
By Kelan Hlavaty
“Know thyself” and “don’t overcommit.” These maxims have empowered Jacqueline (Jackie) Jeruss to serve as both a breast cancer surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a basic science researcher running a lab at the Robert Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Jackie knew at a young age that she would become a doctor, and upon her first experience in the OR, she knew she would devote her life to surgery. Her interest in research evolved along with her clinical training, affording her a unique position poised at the intersection of medicine and research.
Jackie completed medical school at the University of Vermont College of Medicine with a concentration in surgery. While at Northwestern Memorial Hospital for residency, she realized that she wanted to focus on breast surgical oncology and also make a contribution toward the discovery of new therapies and improvements in care for patients with cancer. This spurred her to go back to graduate school, where she obtained a Ph.D. from Northwestern examining the role of specific growth factors in breast cancer progression. A doctoral degree provided her career with balance and a more comprehensive understanding of the patients under her care. Jackie explains that “removing tumors is gratifying, but thinking about prevention and treatment gives me a renewed sense of energy about the clinical problems I face daily.” The two pursuits enhance one another, and Jackie believes that it is essential for scientists and clinicians to work closely — often her clinical practice will inspire a new direction in her research, while the research seeks to bring out improvements in the clinic.
In addition to a rigorous schedule of alternating days between clinic and the lab — Monday and Thursday for clinic, Wednesday in the OR, and Tuesday and Friday in the lab — Jackie makes family a priority. Her husband, Lonnie Shea, Ph.D., is a Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University whose lab focuses on translational research at the interface of regenerative medicine and biomaterials. Jackie asserts that it is important to have a supportive person in your life who is interested in your work and helps take your work in new directions. In fact, Jackie and Lonnie collaborate on multiple projects, such as the development of a cell-based transcription factor array to understand the molecular staging of breast cancer by assessing cancer gene activity.
On balancing both a successful career and quality time with her husband and three daughters, all under the age of eight, Jackie says that “choosing a career that allows some autonomy and control over your schedule is critical for having a family.” Accordingly, she is home for dinner as often as possible and limits work-related travel. For the times when a surgery or conference does encroach on family time, it helps to encourage her girls to have dynamic lives in line with their parent’s, such as involvement in gymnastics, ballet, swimming, learning a foreign language, and music lessons. Ultimately, family commitments are a top priority.
Many of us, whether a scientist or not, strive for a career we feel passionate toward. Jackie stresses that it is important to allow yourself self-discovery and to approach decisions in a way that make the most sense for you personally. Successfully (and happily) balancing two jobs and a family is inspirational, yet Jackie acknowledges that it did not always come naturally. “I learned what my limits were and what responsibilities I could reasonably accept to manage time for family.” Hence, she is mindful of the size of her lab, the number of ongoing projects, and whom she mentors and accepts into the lab.
In her free time, Jackie loves to read, especially at night before bedtime with her girls. She also enjoys cooking, swimming, and traveling with her husband and three girls Sydney (8), Skyla (6), and Saroya (3).
From Soil Science to Science Outreach: January 2014 SOTM – Krisztina Eleki
By Marina Damiano
Krisztina Eleki is the Director of Programming at the Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST), a non-profit organization founded in 2006 that is dedicated to promoting science and technology through discussions, programs, and leadership dialogue among scientists, institutions, and the public.
The path to Krisztina’s current position in science outreach at C2ST was indirect, however; and it all started with a passion for being outdoors. “Nature inspired me to study plant and soil science and then environmental science,” says Krisztina. But while in graduate school, she realized how large the gap is between science and the general public and decided to dedicate her career to bridging this gap. To support her decision, Krisztina earned a Masters of Public Administration and Policy concurrently with her PhD in Environmental Science.
With her new inspiration in mind, Krisztina took her first outreach position as a life science curator at the California Science Center, a major informal learning institution in the South Land area of Los Angeles. After 2 years her husband received a research assistant professor position at Northwestern University. Still interested in outreach, Krisztina saw an open position at C2ST and knew it would be the perfect fit.
Krisztina’s primary responsibility as the Director of Programming at C2ST is to identify, organize, and implement program content and activities to support C2ST’s mission and future goals. She establishes and maintains working partnerships with institutions in Chicagoland area, such as Argonne National Lab. and the Art Institute. “More R&D funded research occurs within a 300-mile radius of Chicago than the East and West costs combined. It is essential to give visibility to, and raise public awareness of, science and technology in the Chicagoland community. C2ST is the catalyst for generating awareness of Chicago as a center for innovation,” says Krisztina.
In addition to promoting science in Chicago, another one of Krisztina’s goals is to use C2ST’s educational programs to introduce science to Chicago area students and encourage them to pursue careers in science. “There are several turning points in furthering science education” says Krisztina, “One of the major ones is in middle school and the other in college. Generally, these drop offs are steeper for women and minorities.” Encouragingly, however, Krisztina sees her educational partners focusing more on inspiring girls to become engineers. To advance future generations to the next level of scientific education and training, Krisztina advises current scientists and teachers to be mentors and involve their volunteers, interns, students, and technicians in projects and decision-making processes. “On a professional level, network with and promote women. Increase their visibility so they can inspire others.” Krisztina invites readers to pencil into their calendars C2ST’s Women in STEM conference to be held in Fall 2014. There will be opportunities to learn from and network with colleagues across all STEM fields.
When she is not reaching out the public, Krisztina is reaching out to her family, encouraging her 3-year-old daughter to build structures and fix toys. In her spare time, she still maintains her connection to the outdoors and enjoys going on walks with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.
By Agnella Izzo Matic, PhD
Take a sip of a beer. It’s cool, bubbly. You smell citrusy, floral hops. There’s some sweetness that balances the beer’s flavor. A lingering bitterness remains after you swallow. You probably want another sip.
That’s how a trained sensory analyst drinks a beer. Just ask Mary Pellettieri, Business Operations Manager at MillerCoors. She is a veteran of the brewing industry who specializes in quality control and sensory analysis. At MillerCoors, Ms. Pellettieri has worked in quality control and she now manages craft and specialty operations in their Tenth & Blake division.
After obtaining her BS in Botany and MS in Public Health, Mary worked as a quality manager for Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago. While at Goose Island, she was quantifying and regulating beer measures such as alcohol percentage, bitterness levels, sulfite presence, and color. One quirk of working at a Chicago-based brewery was that Mary had to analyze the water chemistry and recommend brewing adjustments depending on the seasons. Chicago sources it’s drinking water from Lake Michigan, which undergoes drastic changes during the spring and fall as the surface and deep waters mix.
One other challenge about brewing beer is that the product must taste the same year after year. Contrast this with making wine, in which it is acceptable and even expected that a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t taste exactly like a 2009 vintage. Mary’s analytic techniques help a brewer adjust to changes in hops and barley (where malt originates) that occur with different growing conditions each year.
Ms. Pellettieri teaches about numerous brewing subjects. At the Siebel Institute in Chicago, America’s oldest brewing school, she leads a sensory analysis course that entails how humans perceive food and drink. Teaching this course requires knowledge of physiology, psychology, and human biases. Since Ms. Pellettieri is a highly regarded sensory analyst, she is recruited to judge many beer competitions. She has judged the Great American Beer Festival, the World Cup of Beer, and the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer, which is being held next in Chicago on November 16, 2013.
At MillerCoors, Mary teaches new hires about the raw materials that go into beer. All beers start with the same basic ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast. At the beginning of the class, most employees think water has the biggest impact on the beer’s flavor. However, by the end of class, almost everyone agrees that yeast is the most important factor. “Yeast takes all of the [raw] materials, chews down all the nutrients, makes carbonation and alcohol, and leaves some residual sugar for body and sweetness,” Ms. Pellettieri notes. “You can take one wort, put three different yeast [strains] in it, and make three totally different beers.” This occurs because each strain of yeast produces a unique combination of compounds, in addition to the alcohol and carbonation, that create different flavors.
Through the Siebel Institute, Ms. Pellettieri has taught many small brewery managers about quality control. These topics are especially helpful to brewers who may not have a scientific background. “Too many times people set [specifications] tighter than process or even tighter than measurement variation and they run around trying to fix stuff that they can never fix.” Students walk away knowing how well they can control the brewing process, what the expected variations should be, where interference can occur, and how well their instruments can measure.
This month, Mary becomes the new president of the Master Brewers Association of America, a professional organization celebrating 125 years of technical leadership for the brewing industry. She credits former colleagues, Ilse Shelton of the Siebel Institute and Kathy Kinton Williams of MillerCoors, with her involvement in professional associations. Both Ms. Shelton and Ms. Kinton Williams occupied leadership positions at national brewing organizations and encouraged Ms. Pellettieri to do the same. Mary believes she’s become a better leader with a broader outlook after being involved in professional organizations. And now, she tries to pay it forward as much as possible and encourage her younger colleagues to get involved, network, and participate in professional associations.
After 4 years with MillerCoors, Mary is leveraging her expertise in brewing science and launching her own consulting business, La Pavia. She will be helping new breweries establish sensory analysis programs and quality control processes. “I’m pretty excited that I’ll be able to help people with some of the things that I really love doing. I love problem solving, [but] I don’t want to just come in and solve the problem and leave. I want to help them learn how to do it themselves.” And, along the way, she will get to taste a lot of great beer.
I have recently come home from a motivational and inspirational evening with Bridgette Heller, an Executive Vice President and President of Consumer Care at Merck & Co. Inc. During her presentation, Bridgette carried her audience through the timeline of her life: from a little girl in a segregated community in Florida to a strong, motivational and inspirational leader. Listening to her talk, I realized once more that it doesn’t matter where one comes from, so long as he/she has the drive and the desire to succeed. I am certain that Dr. Marla Issac, PhD agrees with me. Despite the many challenges which sprung up during Marla’s graduate training, she has persevered and succeeded, showing to herself and to everyone around her that anything is possible. Thus, I have nominated Marla, whom I have the privilege of knowing since grad school days at Northwestern University, as our October Scientist of the Month.
Out of high school, scientific endeavors for Marla started at Xavier University in Louisiana where she has spent her first year as an undergraduate. The following year, Marla transferred closer to home (she was born in Chicago, IL) to the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) to complete her bachelors of arts degree in biology. “I chose biology because I loved my biology classes in high school. I took general biology and then anatomy and physiology. The anatomy class is what really sparked my interest in pursuing biology as a major in college. I was absolutely fascinated by all the inner workings of the body.”
Marla was intrigued by biology so much that, during her junior year at UIC, Marla made a decision to pursue a PhD degree in this field, rather than attending medical school. “During my junior year at UIC , I came across information about a program called the McNair Scholars Program. It is program that introduced minority and first generation college students to the world of research by having them conduct research in a lab on campus during the academic school year. Before finding out about that program, I had no clue what graduate school was, I didn’t know that there was a way to become a Doctor without going to medical school. So this program intrigued me and I applied. The first time I applied I was denied because the director of the program said that although I was extremely bright, my personal statement indicated that I wanted to attend medical school, not graduate school. This was the truth, I had always wanted to go to medical school, but that was because I had never heard of graduate school. I didn’t take that rejection to heart. I tweaked my personal statement, this time emphasizing my interest in graduate education, and was successful. I got into the McNair Program. Following that experience I then conducted research in the summers in the SROP and CURE programs. Biology was now ‘my thing’ and I was hooked.”
Although Marla expected for her PhD training to present some challenges, at some point the challenges both in and out of the laboratory seemed insurmountable. A few years into starting her thesis work in the lab of Drs. Tamas Jilling and Michael Caplan, Marla was confronted with some devastating news. Her mother was unexpectedly killed in a hit-and-run by a bus driver during her visit to Jamaica. As a result, Marla found herself not only dealing with complexities of research, but trying to hold herself together while becoming the matriarch of her siblings. At times, the stresses from all of these events just seemed too much. “There were many days where I felt discouraged and didn’t know if I could make it through…But every time I saw my family they were so proud of me and so excited that I was in grad school and would be the first in our family to obtain a PhD, so I couldn’t give up. I felt like I did not have to option to fail. I wanted to show all of my younger siblings, nieces and nephews that if I could do it, then so could they. So I persevered, and made it through. Hopefully my success has encouraged the ones that are coming after me to do the same.”
Marla has accomplished her dream. She was hooded with a PhD in Biology in July 2013 and is now spending her professional life inspiring others. Marla currently holds 3 professional positions. “My primary role is Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs for The Graduate School at Northwestern, a job I began just two days after graduation. In this role I directed the very same summer research program that I had once participated in as an undergraduate student, SROP. Now, I head all of the recruitment initiatives for the graduate school, I travel around the US to local and national conferences, as well as other universities to encourage minority students to apply to Northwestern for graduate education.
I am also an adjunct lecturer for the School of Continuing Studies, teaching a 3hr Genetics and Evolutionary Biology lecture course. In addition I work as a Teaching Assistant for a biology lab run through the Masters of Biotechnology program.” She does this all with a smile and while continuing to take care of the family who is amazed by all that she has accomplished. When she does have time to unwind (though I honestly don’t understand when she finds this time), Marla enjoys spending time with her family and friends relaxing, though sometimes she just enjoys the precious time of being alone.
When asked about the one lesson she would pass on to graduate students pursuing advanced degrees in the sciences, the message that Marla passed on resonated well with the lessons discussed by Bridgette Heller. “Live a balanced life, work hard but also take time to enjoy life. Don’t let your work be the only thing in your life that makes you happy because it will surely fail to do so at some point.”
By: Stephanie Levi, PhD
Victoria Prince, Ph.D. is no stranger to a bustling research career. As a developmental biologist in the University of Chicago’s Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, Dr. Prince leads a team of researchers in exciting research that focuses on the developmental biology of the pancreas and brain stem. In recent years, leadership has taken a new shape for her in the form of university administration. Dr. Prince assumed the role of Associate Dean and Director of the Biological Sciences Division’s (BSD) Office of Graduate Affairs in 2010. In this role, Dr. Prince has expanded her reach as a mentor to graduate students and early-career researchers, catalyzing a new kind of career development for the next generation of scientists.
Dr. Prince began her research career at North London’s National Institute for Medical Research, where she studied genes that establish specific parts of the body along the body’s axis. A short course in embryology with two soon-to-be Nobel laureates introduced her to a new model system that had not yet gained popularity but has proven extremely useful in a variety of fields—zebrafish. Using this model system, Dr. Prince and her lab have developed techniques and pioneered discoveries that have illuminated the development of the pancreas and brain stem, garnering global interest. Their work seeks to illuminate the establishment of neural circuitry, and understand how the pancreas is built during embryo development to ultimately generate transplantable pancreatic islets from stem cells to cure diabetes.
Such ambitious goals in research have paralleled Dr. Prince’s role as the Associate Dean and Director of the BSD’s Office of graduate affairs. Dr. Prince has worked with the University’s Career Advancement office to introduce an innovative set of programs to support students who are considering a wide variety of post-graduate careers, including alumni visits and workshops for students and post-docs that go outside traditional careers and explore a more diverse selection of career options. “Sometimes scientists are resistant to taking on what they see as service roles, but service and leadership turn out to be two sides of the same coin,” Dr. Prince says. Exposing students and post-doctoral scholars to diverse career options helps them explore interests that leverage their experience as researchers, while cultivating ways to be of service through their myriad experiences. Dr. Prince is an excellent example for other scientists of all levels, not only for what it has enabled her to do for her community, but also for how it has been of service to her. “My administrative role has benefitted me by giving me a much greater understanding of the intricacies of how a university runs, and allowing me to meet a fantastic new cadre of colleagues from outside of the biological sciences.”
Dr. Prince emphasizes that administrative roles are a great choice for female scientists, and female scientists are a great choice for these roles, particularly timely in light of online buzz about the dearth of women in administration roles in research environments. “Taking on such roles allows women to have a broader, or at least a different, impact than can be achieved solely through developing a strong research program. Another excellent reason for women to take on such leadership roles is to provide strong role models for the next generation.” University administrators need to be mindful of issues that may be unique to women in science, she cautions. “Searches need to be much more proactive if women candidates are to be convinced to apply for and (even more challenging) accept upper level leadership jobs. Strategies that work well enough to attract male candidates will not necessarily work for female candidates, so search committees, and particularly the senior leadership behind them, need to do their homework and be willing to go the extra mile if they are serious about placing excellent women scientists into leadership positions.”
So, what is the secret to her success? Dr. Prince dispenses excellent advice: Just say no. “[Being] empowered to do so when appropriate can save new assistant professors from too much busy work and allow them to focus on the most critical task of establishing their research program.” She has advice for students as well: “…Focus on the questions they are passionate about and that will get them up in the morning, rather than worrying too much about whether a particular area of research will be trendy, and where the funding will lie ten years down the road. I suppose this is a form of living in the moment, but I really think research is too hard to do if you aren’t excited about the daily experiments, and none of us have a crystal ball.” A final bit of wisdom is good for all of us: “’Everything in moderation, including moderation.’ Sometimes you really should just go for it.”
Imagine traveling to Siberia. In the winter. For science.
Been there, done that, for Gayle Woloschak. She traveled to Ozersk, a Russian village whose borders require security clearance to breach, to advise scientists on how to handle samples.
These were not ordinary samples. They dated back to the Cold War era and came from animals that had been systematically irradiated by Soviet scientists to understand the effects of radiation on the body.
Gayle was brought to Ozersk because she is a radiation biology expert and creator of the Northwestern University Raditation Archive (NURA), a collection of animal tissue samples from U.S. government-sponsored radiation experiments. Her mission in establishing the archive was to advance the understanding of radiobiology in a cost-effective manner and with reduced animal sacrifice.
In addition to advising colleagues around the globe, Gayle advises graduate students and maintains a radiation biology and bionanotechnology research lab as a Professor of Radiation Oncology at Northwestern. She also teaches radiation biology to medical residents, co-directs the residency training program and the Cancer and Physical Sciences Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, and is the Vice President of the Radiation Research Society.
Gayle received her B.S. in Biology from Youngstown State and credits her undergraduate professor, Dr. Lauren Schroeder, for her decision to go into research. “He was an ecologist and I had the chance to work in his lab for about 2 years running experiments. In the end, I loved it, and he encouraged me to continue,” says Gayle. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in Immunology from the Medical College of Ohio and completed post-doctoral training in Immunology/Molecular Biology at Mayo Clinic. She worked in the Bioscience Division at Argonne National Laboratory for 15 years before her unusual transition to a position at Northwestern, “Northwestern needed someone to teach radiation biology to the residents, so I did this while still at Argonne. Eventually it evolved into a full-time faculty position,” says Gayle.
Gayle remains involved in research at Argonne as the Associate Director for Microbeam Science. She helped developed the Bionanoprobe (BNP), the only X-ray microscope in the world that can image cryogenically preserved biological samples with 30 nm resolution. The BNP is used primarily by the Woloschak Laboratory to study the localization of nanoparticle therapeutics in cancer cells and tissue. The tomographic capabilities of the BNP also allow for 3D reconstruction of the cells. “The idea, when we came up with it over 12 years ago, was to design a way look at samples in their native states,” says Gayle.
Outside of the lab, Gayle has a Doctor of Ministry degree and is active in the science-religion dialogue in Chicago and nationwide. She finds the dialogue “stimulating but also necessary to keep religious groups from having fears about science issues like evolution.”
Any way you look at it, Gayle is a teacher. When asked what she would be doing if she were not in her current position, Gayle says, “I’d be trying to do the same thing at another university. I love science and I love sharing it with others.”
By Agnella Matic
What is the last medicine that you took? Do you remember its name? Chances are that you’re thinking of the medicine’s brand name, such as Tylenol® or Zithromax®. But these drugs have a generic name as well: acetaminophen and azithromycin, respectively. The generic drug name is the result of a formal negotiation process between the pharmaceutical company that is manufacturing the new drug and the United States Adopted Names (USAN) Council. Dr. Gail Karet, senior scientist at the American Medical Association (AMA), plays a crucial role in the naming process by acting as chief negotiator between pharmaceutical companies and the USAN Council.
As a new drug is developed, the pharmaceutical company will apply for an adopted name (more commonly known as a generic name). Dr. Karet (pronounced ca-RET) relies on her background in chemistry to understand the chemical structure and the supposed action of the drugs that are submitted for naming. The pharmaceutical company will submit several suggested names, working from a naming scheme that Dr. Karet and the USAN Council publish. The suggested drug names should all carry the same stem, which is based on the drug’s mode of action. For instance, azithromycin carries the “-mycin” stem, which indicates that it is an antibiotic against Streptomyces bacterial strains. The other part of the drug name, the prefix, carries no meaning, surprisingly. The prefix (“azi-“ in this example) is merely there to differentiate it from other drugs in the same class. One of Dr. Karet’s crucial responsibilities is to interpret the chemical and biological information on the application and determine if the company’s suggested names conform to the naming scheme.
Though the brand name of a drug is usually more recognizable to consumers, the adopted name is arguably the more important name for patient safety. “[The adopted name] can’t be too close to another [generic or brand] name that might get confused, either when written out, when spoken, or in electronic order entry,” Dr. Karet notes. There are other guidelines that relate to international use of the adopted name, such as letters or pronunciations that don’t exist in certain languages.
The naming process usually takes 1-2 rounds of negotiations between the USAN Council and the pharmaceutical company. Common reasons that the USAN Council asks a pharmaceutical company for alternative naming suggestions are a prefix that the Council deems too promotional, a newly created stem that is not supported by the accompanying data, or a name that suggests a part of the body that the drug acts on. After each round of deliberation by the USAN Council, Dr. Karet reports the results to the pharmaceutical company and facilitates any revisions that have been requested.
Once the USAN Council and the pharmaceutical company reach a consensus, the suggested name is brought to the World Health Organization (WHO) for approval by their international non-proprietary names group. When the WHO, the USAN Council, and the company agree on the same name, the drug receives its United States Adopted Name and a statement of adoption is issued, which includes information on the chemical structure, the molecular weight, and suggested pronunciation. Only after a drug receives an adopted name may the company market the drug to physicians and consumers.
In addition to over-the-counter and prescription drugs, Dr. Karet works on adopted name applications for new contact lens plastics, monoclonal antibodies, and veterinary drugs, to name a few. She estimates that the USAN Council adopts names for over 100 new substances each year, the majority of which are active pharmaceuticals. The USAN Council does not name items such as new formulations of existing substances, preventative vaccines (i.e. annual flu vaccine), or substances that have not yet been tested in clinical trials.
To arrive at her current position, Dr. Gail Karet has taken a path that even she could not have anticipated. After finishing her PhD dissertation at Northwestern University and a post-doctoral fellowship at Indiana University, Dr. Karet took on an editorial journalist role for several pharmaceutical industry magazines, winning regional and national journalism awards along the way. When the publisher’s headquarters moved to New Jersey, she transitioned to a position at the AMA and worked on educational products that are offered to physicians for continuing medical education. Dr. Karet credits her strong writing and editing skills, developed while an editorial journalist, for helping her succeed in the medical education position. Several years after joining the AMA, a scientist position opened up for the USAN program and, in her words, “I couldn’t not apply because it was a really good fit for my background.”
Dr. Karet appreciates the flexible work environment at the AMA and her husband’s involvement with raising their two children, both of which allow her to maintain a full-time position, spend time with her family, and go to her favorite morning yoga classes. She concedes that her life needs to be set up just the right way for everything to work. If something happens, a kid gets sick, then the balance of work, life, and family gets disrupted. Dr. Karet has been just as flexible with her own choices, noting that she and her husband, who is a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory, solved the “two-body problem” when she looked outside of academia for work so that she could remain in the Chicago area. Dr. Karet emphatically states, “I’m not sorry I left research. I agonized over it… but in retrospect I’m glad I did it.”
Written by C. Zoe Hoeppner, PhD
Principal Engineer at Fresenius Kabi (via the recent acquisition of Fenwal Inc), Katherine Radwanski is rising young female star in the apheresis and blood device industry. Despite having only received her Master’s in Biotechnology from Northwestern University in 2008, Katherine has quickly made a name for herself, winning several awards from professional societies, authoring patents, and most recently serving as the technical lead for an exploratory IND (investigational new drug) study at Fenwal (now Fresenius). Traditionally, a company submits IND applications only after a candidate drug has been put through rigorous testing and is in final product form. The study Katherine lead of a new platelet additive solution was one of the first of its kind in the transfusion technology industry, and a major accomplishment for her company.
Though she is a technical whiz when it comes to apheresis, Katherine is not taking anything away but rather giving back through mentoring young women scientists and engineers during their co-op internships at Fresenius Kabi, or through career mentorship. Katherine sees the biggest challenge women facing in her industry are a lack of female mentors in senior technical roles. While she was fortunate, her mother was a great mentor and source of support for her in her education and career; working as a manufacturing engineer for over 30 years where few women can be found; this is often not the case. As Katherine sees it, often time’s female scientists and engineers with excellent communication and management skills are diverted to the project management roles, which leave a gap for mentors to the more junior female scientists. For her part, Katherine is trying to overcome this issue by encouraging women to pursue their technical interests through continuous learning and educating them on how they can advance their careers in a technical path as she has.
When Arabela Grigorescu was a post-doctoral fellow researching DNA repair proteins at the University of Chicago, she found herself a crossroads in her career. Though she was most comfortable in what she considered to be the creative and stimulating environment of academe, Arabela knew teaching courses as a tenure track faculty was not the path she wanted to pursue.
Not having a clear idea of what to do next, Arabela reflected on her graduate school teaching experiences. While she earned her Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology from the University of Pittsburgh, Arabela loved teaching labs. She helped design and taught a laboratory course in Molecular Biophysics to familiarize undergraduate students with biophysical techniques to characterize several aspects of protein structure and function. The course was instrumental in teaching undergraduates how to “do” science like it is actually done in the research environment. For Arabela it was a great learning opportunity and a “very rewarding experience,” especially because some of her students were so inspired that they went on to pursue graduate studies in the same area of research.
Today Arabela continues to support researchers as the Managing Director of the Keck Biophysics Facility at Northwestern University. The Keck Facility is a center for molecular biophysical research which provides Northwestern groups with advanced equipment, specialized training, and assistance. The Facility has a set of 22 advanced instruments that allow for integrated analyses of macromolecular structure, interactions, and function. As Director, Arabela manages the daily operations of the Keck laboratory and provides counseling, training and assistance to researchers who need to employ biophysical techniques. She must also constantly evaluate novel technologies and both seek out and supply the Facility with technologies to meet the needs of Northwestern research groups.
Originally from Romania, Arabela studied physics at the University of Bucharest. She turned from physics to biology when Peter Lipke, a biology professor at CUNY, accepted her as non-degree student into his advanced structural biology course. Though she could barely speak English, the course left her spellbound. “After the first couple of lectures I had no doubt this is the area I wanted to specialize in,” Arabela says. She developed her investigatory skills as a graduate student with Linda Jen Jacobson at the University of Pittsburgh and then as a post-doctoral fellow with Phoebe Rice at the University of Chicago – two women who, in Arabela’s words, are “renowned scientists, excellent mentors, and role models.”
At Northwestern, Arabela is a mentor in her own right. Along with her staff, Arabela guides the efforts of over 500 users from various areas of research, all of whom require differing levels of assistance – some are self-sufficient and some need help at every step. However, these challenges do not faze Arabela, “I think it is fantastic to work in this field, in a top-tier research university, in this day and age. I get to see innovative projects, discuss breakthrough ideas, and meet brilliant people every day. It is an honor and a privilege to contribute in a very small way to the extraordinary research currently going on at Northwestern.”
Grateful for the work-life balance she has in her current position; Arabela makes it a priority to be home for family dinner and to spend time with her children. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening and says that readers would be surprised to know that she is pursuing a degree in Garden Design. Thinking back on her career path thus far, Arabela is “very content” in her current position and cannot imagine herself somewhere else. She advises scientists who enjoy academia, but do not want to be principal investigators to sample different aspects of the academic experience during their graduate and postdoctoral years. “It is possible to find rewarding positions that combine managerial and administrative skills with knowledge of the academic system and expertise in a particular area of science. “
By Agnella Izzo Matic, PhD
The breast tumor lights up in pink on the computer screen. Algorithms automatically detect the tumor and predict that this tumor is malignant.
This scene may soon play out in medical centers around the nation thanks to Dr. Maryellen Giger’s innovative research in the fight against breast cancer. Dr. Giger (rhymes with “tiger”) is Professor and Vice Chair for basic science research in the Department of Radiology, Chair of the Committee on Medical Physics, and Director of the Imaging Research Institute at the University of Chicago.
Dr. Giger’s research focuses on computer-aided diagnosis of breast cancer from multiple breast imaging modalities, including mammography, ultrasound, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). The information from Dr. Giger’s computer algorithms can improve breast cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and patient care. For example, in current medical practice, MRI has several uses related to breast cancer. MRI can be used to screen women with a high risk of developing breast cancer or those with dense breasts. MRI is also used as a secondary exam following a suspicious x-ray mammogram, as well as a monitoring method during cancer treatment. Though it is not the gold standard for all breast cancer screening, breast MRI is gaining prominence in medical practice and Dr. Giger’s research is one reason why.
The quantitative image analysis techniques developed by Dr. Giger and her colleagues automatically segment a breast lesion; extract lesion features such as volume, surface area, and contrast kinetics; and estimate the invasiveness of a lesion and the probability of malignancy. Potentially all of this information can aid a radiologist to diagnose cancer, characterize aggressiveness of the tumor, and predict response to therapy.
Several former University of Chicago students formed the company Quantitative Insights to bring Giger’s research to the clinic (Giger sits on the board as a scientific advisor). The company added an intuitive clinical interface to the algorithms and analysis methods developed in Dr. Giger’s lab. Initial feedback for the clinical interface has been overwhelmingly positive and the interface was recently exhibited at the 2012 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). Once Quantitative Insights obtains FDA approval for the clinical workstation, radiologists will be able to analyze patients’ breast MRIs using the methods developed at the University of Chicago. Radiologists who have previewed the workstation estimate that they can reduce the time to interpret a breast MRI scan from 30 minutes (using current technology) to 10 minutes. Additionally, the workstation will deliver more in-depth quantitative information to the radiologist than is currently available.
Many organizations have bestowed honors on Dr. Giger. She is a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers (AIMBE), fellow of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), and member of the National Academy of Engineering, which is arguably the highest professional honor that can be bestowed on an engineer.
And it’s no wonder why. Dr. Giger’s research output is astounding. She has advised over 100 trainees. She has 37 patents issued. She is the author of 177 peer-reviewed manuscripts, and counting. Though these remarkable descriptors all apply to Dr. Giger, they don’t convey the full picture of her intellect, her wisdom, or her warm personality.
Dr. Maryellen Giger appreciates the support she received from several mentors throughout her career. Dr. Rose Carney, Giger’s math professor at Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University), offered Dr. Giger several summer job opportunities during her undergraduate studies. One of those opportunities was a research position working on temperature controls for neutron therapy and building electronics for beam diagnostics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Dr. Franca Kuchnir, Professor Emerita of Radiation and Cellular Oncology, and the late Dr. Charles Metz, Professor of Radiology, were influential colleagues at the University of Chicago, especially during Giger’s early faculty period.
As a mentor herself, Dr. Giger is pleased to return the favor and give advice gained from her own experience. She is particularly attentive to the needs of junior faculty. Giger is a big proponent of tearing down the hierarchy that is present in academia, noting that in her lab “everyone is equal around the scientific table.” Her hope is that former students and junior colleagues act as a supportive mentor for the next generation of scientists when the time comes.
Outside the laboratory, Dr. Giger spends her down time reading biographies of great scientists and she recently enjoyed “The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Looking forward, the biggest challenge for Giger and her lab is one that almost all biomedical researchers in the US are facing: obtaining funding. Even after a career spanning 4 decades, she still has many ideas for new projects that she would like to begin.