Friday, May 6, 2016

Physician Scientists: Three Keys to the Future of Biotechnology

                As a physician scientist, one of the greatest challenges to be tackled today is curing the increasingly complex and ever evolving disease of cancer. As a senior in Northwestern University’s biomedical engineering program and a matriculating MSTP student, I have found two articles that provide sample roadmaps for future cancer biotechnology research.
                In a recent TED Talk, Paula Hammond, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, outlined an innovative new strategy for attacking aggressive cancers. Her method combined many previous discoveries into one multilayered nanoparticle delivery system that was able to send triple-negative breast cancer into remission in a rat model. The particles contain a core of doxorubicin surrounded by a siRNA shell that inhibits known tumor survival genes and allows the doxorubicin to work effectively. The outer shell consists of positively charged biopolymer and negatively charged polysaccharides that protect the particle from premature degradation. Since the particle is built on electrostatic interactions, it is highly customizable and the scheme can be adapted for many other cancers with different targeting in the outer layers and different siRNA/drug combinations in the interior. Such highly customizable superweapons are the future of personalized cancer fighting technology.
precision medicine
More recently, Sean Parker, the billionaire founder of Napster, invested $250 million to setup a new cancer research consortium focused on immunotherapy. His choice to focus on immunotherapy reflects the shift of the cancer research community towards the developing field. It is another part of the future of cancer treatment and makes an innovative paradigm shift by focusing on augmenting the body’s own cancer defenses. The consortium’s structure is also unique; it is being run as if it were a massive startup company, with researchers agreeing to fast-track their discoveries to industry through a shared patent system. The research network will consist of 40 labs and over 300 scientists with one common goal. This unique research model may prove to be the standard for medical research in the future.
These two articles offer key insights into emerging research strategies for fighting cancer. They showcase three common themes that I believe will be crucial for future researchers and cancer biotechnology companies to act on:

  •          Integrate Strategies – Tackle research problems utilizing all available technologies for effective innovation.

  •          Customize Treatments – Tailor strategies to meet the individual needs of each patient for maximum effect.

  •          Break Paradigms – Think creatively on all aspects of research, from bench work, to product development to organization structure.

 t    The future of  biotechnology and medicine is evolving rapidly. Physician scientists are uniquely capable of integrating various technologies and applying them to medicine. These strategies will help keep you on the cutting edge of the path to discovery. 

 I am Kai Huang, an undergraduate studying biomedical engineering and integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University. I have studied biomaterials as an undergrad and worked on nanoparticle as well as cancer drug research. I will be starting MSTP training at UIC in the fall. This blog is part of a social media marketing course through Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism available online. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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