Student Profile in Gene Editing and Nanotechnology
Mentor: Daniel Siegwart, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Neuroscience
Undergraduate Institution: Baylor University
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Awards/Fellowships: Undergraduate: Baylor University Honors Program Graduate, Distinguished Honors Scholar Graduate School (Ph.D.): Carol and Robert Eberhart Endowed Scholarship in Engineering in the Clinical Sciences
How did you become interested in science and/or research?
My interest in scientific research started at Baylor University, where I worked closely with Dr. Micheil Spillane, who was a doctoral student at the time, in an exercise physiology and biochemistry lab. This was my first hands-on experience in basic science research, and I really enjoyed having the freedom to explore, test, and validate different hypotheses. However, I was still unsure about whether I wanted to pursue a more clinically based or research-oriented position in health care. To help answer this question, I enrolled in a clinically oriented master’s degree program at UNT Health Science Center wherein I quickly realized that although I enjoyed the patient-focused nature of the health care field, I also missed basic science research.
Having realized this, I concluded that an ideal career path would be comprised of scientific research that is clinically translatable, with the ultimate goal of developing technologies that are able to make the leap from lab bench to bedside. With this in mind, I began working as a research technician in the neuroscience department at UT Southwestern wherein I focused on learning an array of research methods and techniques that would be beneficial to know as a future graduate student.
Please describe your research.
CRISPR/Cas gene editing possesses incredible curative potential to treat human diseases through correction of disease-causing mutations. However, actual correction of DNA mutations via precision gene editing is currently hindered by the lack of targeted, safe, non-viral carriers that can deliver CRISPR/Cas components to cells. As such, my research is focused on modifying and optimizing our lab’s dendrimer-based lipid nanoparticle (LNP) platform for encapsulation and delivery of CRISPR/Cas gene editing machinery in vivo, thereby enabling HDR-mediated precision gene editing of clinically relevant disease targets within the body.
With continued development, nucleic acid-based precision gene editing technologies such as CRISPR/Cas-mediated HDR may eventually enable the realization of treatments that permanently cure diseases at the DNA level – offering hope for patients to be cured in a single dose session.
Why did you choose UT Southwestern?
UT Southwestern offers the unique combination of both basic science graduate and professional health care schools on one campus. What this ultimately means is that a large amount of scientific research performed at UT Southwestern has the potential to be highly translatable. UT Southwestern really understands that science is the ultimate “team sport” and, as such, they actively encourage and promote an environment of faculty collaboration, both within as well as between departments, from basic science research to bedside in the clinic.
Beyond UT Southwestern, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States, which correlates to innovation and unparalleled economic growth. Additionally, from a cultural perspective DFW is extremely eclectic and diverse, welcoming people from all backgrounds and walks of life. For me, having the ability to attend a top-tier research institution that sits in the middle of an already impressive yet expanding Metroplex was a pretty easy decision.
What do you think makes the Biomedical Engineering Program one of the best?
The Biomedical Engineering Program at UT Southwestern has seen continued growth since I have been a student and consistently publishes exciting findings in some of the top academic journals. Currently, the program is partnered with UT Arlington, as well as UT Dallas. By partnering with these institutions, BME students at UTSW are offered a wide array of engineering courses that would otherwise be unavailable.
Due to the diversity present in the field of biomedical engineering, this philosophy of broad access also applies to lab choice at UTSW as BME students are relatively unrestricted with respect to lab choice and encouraged to join labs in nearly any of the departments on campus.
– Lukas Farbiak, Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program