PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering
Andrew Sinegra is a PhD candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering. His research explores how the structures of drug carriers determine their target and function using large data sets. Andrew is a member of the Mirkin Research Group. Earlier this year, he completed the Management for Scientists and Engineers (MSE) certificate program jointly offered by The Graduate School and Kellogg School of Management.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
My research is focused on making novel drug carriers. There are a lot of molecules chemists and biologists have studied that could have very powerful applications but can’t be used because they don’t reach their target in the body when delivered by themselves. While a pure biologist would see DNA as the code for everything a cell can do, I see it as a material that can form many different structures by interchanging its sequence of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. With this perspective, I focus on finding individual sequences as well as 3-dimensional arrangements of many DNA strands that can target drug carriers to their destination in the body.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania that had a population of 1,000 people. Because chemistry was my favorite subject in high school, I became a chemistry major when I attended the University of Virginia. I initially thought I wanted to go to medical school after undergrad, but I fell in love with research when I worked in a few different laboratories after my second year. While I loved chemistry, my research took a turn toward biochemistry and genetics, and I thought, why not become an engineer? So now I’m here, a biomedical engineering student.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
I am not a statistician, but I am really interested in the future of combining big datasets with nanotechnologies for drug delivery. If you only make five nanoparticle structures, how do you know that one of those will be the best one? With structures like those made of DNA, the beauty is that you can test hundreds or thousands of structures. If you can establish relationships between many structures and their drug delivery properties, you have the potential to spend more time using computers to design the vehicles than running experiments, it’s beautiful!
I came to Northwestern so I could bridge my undergraduate career in chemistry with my PhD research in biomedical engineering. The International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) is a beautiful place where these worlds collide, with some of the best chemists and engineers out there!
How do you unwind after a long day?
I love running every morning before going to the lab. It really centers me. Aside from that, I enjoy riding my bike, collecting sneakers, and cooking.
What books are on your bedside table?
Some good ones lately have been Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by my family, friends, and colleagues. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for and alongside many altruistic people who serve the public and greater good with integrity when they could have chosen an easier path.
Tell us about a time when things did not go as you planned, what did you learn?
When I was unable to go to the lab this March due to the pandemic, my adviser, Professor Chad Mirkin, emphasized that we should find the next best thing to do from home. I took a few steps back and thought about the structure of my next paper and the experiments it would take to complete. It ended up saving me a lot of time in the lab, and I’m almost done with the paper after only two months of experiments!
Published: December 22, 2020
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