1. Stem cell therapy has immense potential, and a growing role, in the next generation of medical therapies. EpiBone is the world’s first company growing bones for skeletal reconstruction through the use of stem cells. What are your long-term goals for your company and for your proprietary research on stem cell growth?
At EpiBone, we want to re-envision the way we heal and repair our bodies. Using your own cells as the main ingredient, we are essentially able to help you heal yourself in a way that is actually quite natural. This personalized and biologically assisted approach to healing represents a new generation of medicine in which the end product isn’t just in your body, but rather an indistinguishable part of it.
In the long term, we hope to have a significant impact on the field of regenerative medicine by applying what we learn to other types of tissues. This includes the strides we make in the use of stem cells, advancements we make in bioreactor technology and lessons we learn in the development of this groundbreaking work. Even though it’s hard to see, the cells in your body are doing amazing things all the time!
2. On your blog, you write about the gap between technology and management among CEOs in technology-based ventures, who are often significantly more qualified on one side. How have you managed to tackle your desire to “straddle the border of business and science” with EpiBone?
This marriage of equals, science and business, matters a lot to me. I came to business by way of science, and vice versa – from a PhD in biomedical engineering, to a job in healthcare consulting at McKinsey, to an MBA. It’s not enough, though, for me to build bridges for myself between business and science and leave my teammates stratified on one side or the other. At EpiBone, we make a point of supporting everyone’s efforts to build skills in the area that’s more foreign to them. For example, the leadership coach who works with my co-founder and me also does one-on-one sessions with every employee, helping scientists and non-scientists alike to learn management skills. We also contribute time and money to help our business specialists become more fluent in the science world – for example, one of our financial analysts took a biohacking class at Genspace, and another took a healthcare economics class. Additionally, our entire company meets every week. That kind of collaboration has a way of melting the divide between science and business.
3. You started your career in electrical engineering at a telecommunications company. What drove you to switch your career focus to biomedical engineering?
Community college! Though the story of how I got there is a little longer than that. I grew up with a front-row seat to hereditary diseases, with two color-blind sisters and a night-blind brother. I’d always felt a strong pull to the intersection of technology and biology. Once I took a tech job, it was only natural that I’d start chasing biology. Plus, I worked with many PhDs, and I got a little jealous of all their academic cred.
After working for a year in telecommunication, I enrolled in a physiology class at my local community college. I started seeing parallels between built technology and the technology inside our bodies – the physiology of bones and the technology of phones, for example. DNA being like hard drives, and neurons like cables and wires. In grad school, I took that exploration even further, into electrodes for wound healing and the ways that cell differentiation could be influenced by technologically created environments. My early experience gave me an engineering mindset for thinking about biology – which fits because living cells are some of the greatest engineers.
4. Aside from heading EpiBone, you have also had several roles as a visiting or adjunct professor for different universities. What has motivated your commitment to teaching?
It’s part passion and part practical. I love the idea of influencing the next generation of scientists. Beyond that, teaching part-time is also a great complement to working in business. The two efforts fuel each other. Teaching forces you to learn things better because the students ask really good questions. They push my thinking. When I taught my tissue engineering class, the students sparked a lot of bioethical debates. Their final projects also opened my eyes to new subjects. The neurology of tickling was a final project – I never would have known anything about that. Other students did projects on electric fish. I knew nothing about electric fish, but my students were obsessed with them. Then, this past fall, I co-taught an online class though MIT with EpiBone tissue engineer Terri-Ann Kelly, and we taught students all over the world how to create cartilage from supermarket chicken. That was kind of out there and fun. Their passion and intelligence inspires me, and I hope that I can give them a little of that inspiration as well.
It doesn’t hurt that teaching helps with staffing at the company, too. Many of our EpiBone team members were students of mine when I was a teaching assistant – even my co-founder!
5. What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d urge her to believe in herself, her abilities and her potential. I’d tell her that there isn’t a next class you have to take or next level you need to reach before you’re “good enough”; you have everything you need to succeed right now! It doesn’t matter who you are. We all had to get our start somewhere, so why not start being a superstar today?
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PB-01865-2017-12-14 Expires 12/31/2019