Hunter Rogers ’19 PhD
Postdoctoral Trainee in Life Sciences
Hunter Rogers ’19 PhD is a postdoctoral trainee in the Feinberg School of Medicine. Through his work, he is attempting to create models that represent human biology and disease better than traditional cell culture and animal models. Hunter is a member of the Woodruff Lab and was recently named to the Halo Cures 40 under 40 Chicago Scientists list.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
The core of my work is attempting to create models that represent human biology and disease better than traditional cell culture and animal models. These improved models will help us to better understand how diseases originate and how we can best treat them.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
While working on a prototype, I was using a "biocompatible" 3D printer resin (suggesting the material isn't toxic to cells) for some of the parts. To be safe, we tested for any toxicity by culturing mouse oocytes within the material for a short period (16 hours). We were shocked to find all the oocytes were dead after that short time. (Later experiments showed they were dying within the first hour!) This led us down a long journey attempting to identify what about the material was causing this severe effect and ended up being a large chunk of my thesis work.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
The near-term impact of these technologies will most likely be found in their ability to make the drug development pipeline more efficient, thereby decreasing the time and financial investment needed to bring much-needed drugs to the market. In the longer term, these technologies could potentially be utilized for more advanced applications, such as personalized medicine. We hope to one day be able to take a patient’s own cells and create a personalized model that could be used to test the effectiveness of different therapeutics to determine the most promising treatment strategy specifically for that patient.
What books are on your bedside table?
The books I keep by my bed are a mixture of ones I am currently reading and some that hold some personal value to me. The latter group includes copies of two Arthur Miller plays, Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. When I was in high school we had to read the plays aloud in class and my friends and I would really get into it and try to get the biggest laugh from our line readings. So, every time I see them I think back to one of my friends yelling "I got halfway up to Yonkers!" and it makes me smile. I’m currently reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, Paris: The Biography of a City by Colin Jones, and Health Justice Now: Single-Payer and What Comes Next by Tim Faust.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
I think the best advice I would give myself or someone considering a similar path (or really any path) is that if you ever feel like you don't know what you are doing and that you're not smart enough to be working with the people you're working with, I can guarantee that the same exact thoughts are going through whoever you are working with, even the experts! Imposter syndrome is a real thing that people experience in academia (and I'm sure other areas) and it can be devastating to your psyche. But the longer you are in a field or work on a project, you soon realize that the people that you think have it together or are way smarter than you feel just as clueless as you do most of the time! In research, we're all chasing unknowns and so a lot of times no one knows the right answer to a problem, or whether there are multiple right answers, or even if there's an answer at all! It's important to be confident in yourself and your abilities and not be fearful of not knowing answers.
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
Currently, my principal investigator (PI), Dr. Teresa Woodruff and I are working to commercialize the latest iteration of our microfluidic platforms, Lattice. I have always been interested in entrepreneurship and one of my main goals as a graduate student was to create something in my work that could provide the type of immediate translational value that warranted spinning the technology out of the lab and into a startup business. Being a part of a new business is both exciting and terrifying at the same time, which is not that different than doing research in a lab.
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