Geek of the Week

Seattle biotech vet Justine Dell’Aringa sees parallels in science whereas constructing her own residence

Justine Dell’Aringa is part of a team at Bristol Myers Squibb that has contributed to the development of two approved (CAR) T cell therapies. (Photo courtesy of Justine Dell’Aringa)

At home and at work, Justine Dell’Aringa is up for a challenge.

The scientific associate director of Translational Research for Bristol Myers Squibb’s Immuno-Oncology and Cell Therapy Thematic Research Center is a biotech industry veteran in Seattle. She’s spent 21 years in the field and counts herself lucky to have contributed to a handful of successful therapies.

At home the mother of two has been building a new home alongside her husband, adding some extra spice to a year in which the pandemic might have been enough for most families.

“As that challenge pretty much dominated our lives — along with the pandemic, and working from home, and remote schooling — I was struck by how many parallels there are between the house building process and the work in science that I do,” said Dell’Aringa, our latest Geek of the Week. “Problem solving, being nimble and adaptable, learning new toolsets and processes and, most of all, strong collaborations are fundamental to both activities.”

Dell’Aringa is part of a team at Bristol Myers Squibb that has contributed to the development of two approved chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies.

But she admits that it takes “a painfully long time and enormous resources and effort” to discover and successfully develop new cancer therapies.

PREVIOUSLY: Bristol Myers Squibb’s $74B acquisition of Juno parent Celgene puts Seattle biotech world on alert

“We are at an exciting time in which access to cutting edge technologies have the potential to deepen our understanding of cancer and the immune system,” she said.

Dell’Aringa currently leads scientists whose job it is to analyze samples collected from patients in order to evaluate the immune system in the context of the disease they are studying. The team compares the tumor and the immune response of patients who respond to treatment to those who don’t. The information is used to develop biomarkers that may identify future patients who will benefit from treatment as well as help the development of next generation therapies.

“I’m passionate about this work because I can see the impacts to the lives of patients, and I believe we are on the leading edge of next generation cancer treatments,” Dell’Aringa said.

Being part of that team — and watching her new house rise up — keeps her inspired.

Learn more about our latest Geek of the Week, Justine Dell’Aringa:

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? That there are game changing cancer treatments being developed and starting to come online. My team and I at Bristol Myers Squibb are harnessing the human immune system to change cancer treatment and are bringing life-changing therapies to more patients as quickly as possible. We take the patient’s immune cells, modify them so that they can target cancer, and then infuse them back into the patient to fight the cancer cells. We’re able to do this because of all the novel technologies that are being developed in the field through many years of research. My work in translational research, in large part, focuses on making sure new technologies are utilized to their utmost potential. There has been a big leap in the number of new tools in the toolbox, and they can do a lot of amazing new things. The challenge is to understand all these new capabilities and apply them effectively to gain practical insights into how patients respond to our innovative new therapies in our clinical trials.

Where do you find your inspiration? In people. My colleagues especially inspire me and challenge me daily. I have never seen people as devoted to their work as the teams who contributed to our two CAR T cell therapies recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I’m inspired by the dedication to patients that I see in our teams. I’m inspired by the many patients stories I hear with happy outcomes and reminded by the sad stories that we still have a lot of work ahead of us. I’m inspired by the knowledge, creativity, and leadership I witness around me, as well as the commitment to collaboration I see when we’re working through challenges. It’s incredible what people can do when they come together for a common cause.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My manual lever espresso machine. Because I love coffee and I also get something out of hands-on stuff – it’s been a few years since I’ve been in the lab.

Justine Dell’Aringa and family in the home construction zone. (Photo courtesy of Justine-DellAringa)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My home workspace is a MESS! Have I mentioned we’re at the tail end of a major construction project? My family and I called our 400-square-foot backyard cottage home for 14 months at the start of the pandemic while we demolished our outdated 700-square-foot home and built our new home. At that time, I worked on a tiny plywood desk my husband built for me that fit in the small sleeping loft where my children slept (think climbing up and down a ladder). I recently moved my office out of the sleeping loft in the cottage and into the attic of our nearly completed home. I currently work on a folding table using a repurposed TV as monitor, surrounded by construction material, luggage, and holiday decorations awaiting completion of a storage space. I do have a very nice ergonomic office chair that my neighbor lent me. One perk of the pandemic is we’ve grown very close with our neighbors.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I try to be in the moment as much as possible. While juggling a full-time job, full-time construction project, and two young children, I’ve learned that every moment counts. It’s important to prioritize listening attentively in meetings and making time to connect with loved ones.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows.

Favorite superhero or sci-fi character? Wonder Woman.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine, so I could go back in time to get the transporter and the cloak of invisibility (in that order).

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … consider starting a specialty lab focused on offering new technologies for exploratory research on clinical specimens.

I once waited in line for … Tilth Alliance’s May edible plant sale.

Your role models: My parents. They are both incredibly hard working, resilient, generous and compassionate.

Greatest game in history: Chess.

Best gadget ever: iPhone.

First computer: Something you might find in a computer museum now, I think it was a Vectra PC-308 back in the mid ’90s.

Current phone: iPhone 7.

Favorite app: At the time it’s Pinterest because their image recognition technology has been really helpful with design and sourcing of materials for our DIY construction project.

Favorite cause: Sustainable farming and food security.

Most important technology of 2021: The synthetic mRNA technology used to produce the coronavirus vaccines by Pfizer-bioNTech and Moderna is an incredible scientific advancement at a pivotal time. The breakthrough success of mRNA technology is a prime example of the importance of perseverance in science. Decades of trial and error finally led Drs. Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman to an important breakthrough that advanced the technology making the development of coronavirus vaccines possible at unprecedented speed during a global pandemic.

Most important technology of 2023: In the clinical exploratory research space I think advancements in the applications of relatively new technologies such as single cell sequencing, spatial profiling, high dimensional/spectral flow cytometry, and platforms to evaluate circulating tumor DNA will be applied more routinely and provide deeper biological insights to help us explore how the human immune system works in context of the disease we’re studying and generate impactful datasets to inform our clinical development and drug discovery pipelines.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: My advice to fellow geeks is to let your passion lead you and when you run into a challenge, be persistent, be collaborative, and seek out diverse perspectives. And if you get stuck, step back, look for perspective, and have some faith that you will find a solution that will advance your work.

Website: Bristol Myers Squibb profile.

LinkedIn: Justine Dell’Aringa

Related Articles

Trả lời

Email của bạn sẽ không được hiển thị công khai. Các trường bắt buộc được đánh dấu *