Julie Sutcliffe focuses on developing new agents for non-invasive cancer imaging. That work, however, requires many minds, and she has specifically recruited the right talent mix to her lab.
"My lab team includes the people who are committed to taking the imaging agents we develop from bench to bedside," Sutcliffe says. "This multidisciplinary, translational approach will yield results sooner rather than later."
Finding candidate molecules specific to the biological processes that transform normal cells into cancer is the first challenge in creating an imaging agent. Postdoctoral fellow Karen Gagnon, an organic chemist, is taking a random high-throughput approach, screening thousands of potential candidates. Postdoctoral researcher Sven Hausner, also an organic chemist, is designing imaging probes based substantially on known target structures.
"The great thing is that, coming at the problem from different angles, they are starting to come up with some of the same answers, confirming where we should focus our efforts," Sutcliffe says.
The Sutcliffe lab also includes three graduate students – all biomedical engineers – with backgrounds that complement those of Sutcliffe and two postdoctoral fellows:
Julia Choi, who has a degree in biomedical engineering, is creating an imaging agent that targets a cell-surface protein found on metastatic breast cancer cells.
Cathy Stanecki, who also has a biomedical engineering degree, is looking to target new molecules on angiogenic blood vessels that supply tumors, focusing on the application of such a probe in breast cancer.
Jason White, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, joined the lab from a private health-care research company, where he worked in radiochemistry. He brings the unique perspective of what it takes to commercialize health-care products. He is excited to learn probe development from the bench upwards but is more fired up by the opportunity to see his compounds used to benefit patients.
Staff members working with the Sutcliffe team include Dave Kukis, the cyclotron facility manager, and Lina Planutyte, a staff research associate, who manage the daily responsibilities of running a cyclotron and producing the short-lived radioisotopes necessary for Sutcliffe's research program.
"It is the team that makes my research successful, they are the ones who deserve the credit," Sutcliffe says.
Sutcliffe provides a comfortable, collaborative family-like atmosphere in her lab, where she sees her role as leading all the team's work toward targeted research goals.
"I really love what I do. It's my job and my hobby, so I tell my team: 'If you're not happy, go do something else.' Life is too short," she says.