Q&A: Joy Wolfram
Tell us about yourself. What are you most passionate about?
I lead a nanomedicine and extracellular vesicle research program in the School of Chemical Engineering and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland in Australia. I am actively involved in community outreach and scientific education, and as a TED speaker I strive to bring science to a wider audience. I am equally passionate about three things: 1) developing new therapeutics and diagnostics that have the potential to help patients with life-threatening diseases, 2) developing the next generation of leaders in biomedical research, and 3) increasing diversity in science
What first interested you in nanoscience?
Conventional medicines are angstrom sized. By developing medicines on the larger nanoscale we have opportunities to combine several components to develop new medicines with multiple functions that result in better outcomes for patients and less side effects.
According to your faculty page, your research centers on nanomedicine with the goal of developing innovative approaches that bring the next generation of treatments and diagnostics directly to the clinic. What are some promising approaches you’re researching now?
My research program is engineering the body’s own transportation system (biological nanoparticles) to precisely deliver medicine for improved therapeutic effects with less side effects.
What are some of the hardest challenges of moving technology from the lab to the clinic?
Funding and predicting clinical results in simpler models.
Your science career has taken you all over the world. You did your undergrad in Finland at the University of Helsinki, your PhD at University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, you had a faculty position at Mayo Clinic, and you’re now an Associate Professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, just to name a few. Are there a lot of cultural differences in how different countries conduct scientific research? What are some of the benefits you’ve found from doing research in such diverse places?
Scientific culture is global. Every institute provides a unique learning experience. I have been lucky to work in different places and to absorb and implement diverse research practices along my journey.
According to your Wikipedia page, your mother is artist. Did you do any artistic work growing up, and if so, did it help your science career at all?
Arts and science should be more closely linked. Both are creative processes. Many education and outreach activities implement art in various forms (e.g., dancing) to illustrate complex scientific topics.
I had the pleasure of working with you on the Cancer Nanovaccine Game through Houston Methodist. STEM outreach, particularly outreach aimed at underrepresented minorities in science, seems to be a passion of yours. What do you think is the best way to get young people hooked on science?
I think it is important to reach underrepresented minorities in biomedical research early on in order to make sure that everyone is exposed to science as a potential career option. One way of doing this is through interactive and educational games that are broadly accessible. I am really excited about the NanoVaccine game that we developed because it introduces the concept of vaccines, nanomedicine, and the immune system in a fun and easily understandable way.
Joy, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us. It was a pleasure working with you on the NanoVaccine game. Good luck in your research endeavors!
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