A Career in Biotechnology

1. What career path did you take to get to where you are now?

I graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology, U.S.A with a Bachelor degree in chemical engineering specializing in biotechnology. During my undergraduate study, I had a valuable research experience in the area of microfluidics under the supervision of Dr. Hang Lu, a leader in the field of neuroscience and BioMEMS (Bio Micro-Electro- Mechanical System). From there, I attended a graduate school at the University of Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Milica Radisic who specializes in cardiac tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. During my graduate study, I was able to combine microfluidic techniques to the fabrication of biomaterials to solve challenges in the field of tissue engineering. I was also involved in the founding of a successful startup company with my supervisor and others. The company specializes in providing predictive cardiac tissue models that enable more reliable development of new medicines. In drug development, engineered human tissues could offer more realistic models with organ-level function to improve the predictive power of drug testing in pre-clinical screening, hence reducing the costs and risks associated in clinical trials.

2. What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

I enjoy the independent and creative aspects of my work. These are also the major drivers for me to continue the path of academic research as an assistant professor at McMaster University. In my lab, we have the freedom to tackle big scientific challenges and to push the boundary of human knowledge. I am also passionate about teaching and training the next-generation researcher and communicating science to the public. In academia, there are also ample opportunities to commercialize lab bench inventions to make a real-world impact while minimizing risks associated with running a startup. From my previous experiences, I found it is important to specialize in one thing well as commercializing bio-products is always a major undertaking that is lengthy and costly and will ultimately involve people with various expertise.

3. What consulting projects were you involved with and what expertise do you offer?

My experience as consultant was predominantly with potential shareholders and market analysts who are interested in knowing about the viability of human tissue model (also known as Organ-on- a-Chip) for drug testing application and tissue engineered products for regenerative medicine. I can speak about the current climate and landscape of human tissue models and 3D bio-printing for drug discovery. In fact, I published a peer-reviewed article specifically detailed the scientific foundation of emerging Organ-on- a-Chip companies (1). This is an emerging field that has attracted increasing attention in the past years and is poised to revolutionize the traditional drug discovery paradigm that is both costly and inaccurate.

B. Zhang, et al., Lab on a Chip, 17, 2395-420 2017