- #1 Diversity is not just good business, it makes for good science. People who grew up in the same parts of a country and went to similar schools often have comparable approaches to solving problems. As such, homogeneous groups of these individuals tend to get stuck on problems at the same point. Diverse teams, in contrast, come at problems from lots of different angles, enabling them to find creative solutions. Jeffrey Karp, Principal Investigator and Founder of Karp Lab populates his clinic with scientists from around the world: “We’ve had people from over thirty different countries,” he said. “I think this has been important because people in different places, they have different ways of thinking, different ways of solving problems.”
- #2 Hire Outside the Life Sciences. Traditionally distinct disciplines such as engineering, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, physics and the life sciences are increasingly coming together to advance the management and prevention of disease in the US. Tufts Allen Discovery Center, UCSF, Caltech, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ICES at U Texas at Austin, Carnegie Mellon and U Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering, Duke and U of Michigan, The Wyss and the Broad Institutes are examples of organizations combining either elements of computer science or engineering with the life sciences into their various programs. Jeffrey Karp of Cambridge’s Karp Lab has worked with heart surgeons, mechanical engineers, polymer chemists, and a fiber optics expert. Karp creates an environment designed to make the most of everyone’s capabilities, specifically by minimizing overlap in expertise. “When people get together to brainstorm, everybody can bring something unique,” Karp said. “Everybody feels validated, everybody’s motivated because they’re the only ones who can bring that particular perspective or expertise.”
- #3 Balance competitiveness with valuable data sharing. Stacy Springs, Biomanufacturing Program (BioMAN) and executive director of the Consortium on Adventitious Agent Contamination in Biomanufacturing (CAACB) at the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation (CBI), has the recipe for successful collaboration between industry, government and academia when it comes to biotech: “truth, transparency, and trust. Setting the ground rules and understanding how you want to work together is definitely very helpful.” CAACB brings together more than 20 leading drug product and equipment companies, such as Amgen, Biogen, Genentech, and Sanofi Pasteur, to gather confidential information on viral contamination. Such contaminations are too rare for any individual company to have enough data to develop best practices, but, by pooling resources at the neutral forum of MIT CBI, companies can learn from their collective experience.
- #4 Go outside science for your brain trust. When Kristin Ardlie’s team at Broad Institute’s Genotype-Expression Program (GTEx) was formed, there simply weren’t enough samples for the breadth and scale of the sequencing program envisaged for that organization. They realized they needed to look into sourcing samples from people who had died recently to alleviate their tissue supply bottleneck. But this created a whole new set of ethical and legal questions. So what did GTEx do? GTEx established a separate wing of ethical and legal experts. Not only did this solve the issue of having enough samples, it also turned GTEx into an unusually broad, multidisciplinary initiative that, through an ethical, legal, and, social issue substudy, has driven advances in fields far beyond genetics. Notably, the substudy has supported the development of best practices and training resources for people who have to ask grieving families to donate tissues. It has created an invaluable dialogue between biospecimen specialists, ethicists, geneticists, and the families of donors. GTEx has also opened up the data to scientists outside of the consortium and holding outreach meetings with the wider community. Through these and as-yet-unstarted analyses, the data derived from years of work and sacrifice by the families of donors, ethicists, legal experts, biospecimen specialists, geneticists, and others will continue to yield scientific discoveries.
- #5 Get your superhero on. Sometimes it takes a far-fetched idea to solve a problem; a picture of Spiderman in an article on a colleagues’ desk at MIT gave Jeffrey Karp of Karp Lab the wild idea to develop a surgical patch that was degradable, elastic and transparent (inspired by Spiderman's sticky hands and a gecko's sticky feet). Karp Lab has used everything from porcupine quills to jellyfish tentacles as the basis for a breakthrough. From Karp Lab’s bioinspiration to recent discoveries about the microbiome and advances in T-Cell therapy, the jury is out on whether future generations will look back on the 21st century as a time of technological advances or a time when science brought us closer to harnessing the innate power of our own bodies as well as those of the natural world.
We hope you enjoyed our Top 5 List! We are proud to say that three innovators featured in this Top 5 article will be speaking at Biotech Week Boston this October 2016. You can catch up with Jeffrey Karp’s newest discoveries and research at Biotech Week Boston's Cell and Gene Therapy Bioprocessing and Commercialization event. Jeffrey's talk is entitled "MSCs on steroids". Stacy Springs will be on a panel entitled "Industry-Academia Collaboration in Translational Research and Biomanufacturing of Next Generation Biologics at the Bioprocess International Conference and Exhibition. And Kristin Ardlie will discuss GTEx Data and Analysis at Biorepositories and Sample Management.
We also invite you to download “Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs" to get more detailed information on the types of innovations Ardlie, Karp and Springs are working on. The report is free and no email address or registration is required - so go ahead and share the link!
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