Working to promote gender equity in bio-entrepreneurship
The HS Chau Women in Enterprising Science (WIES) Program at the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI), made possible by the generous philanthropic support of Solina Chau Hoi Shuen of Horizons Ventures, is an exciting opportunity for researchers who are committed to addressing gender inequity in biotechnology and are driven to commercially develop solutions for some of the world’s greatest problems for the benefit of the public.
The IGI is working toward a world where revolutionary biotechnology is routinely applied to treat genetic diseases, enable sustainable agriculture, and help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Translating scientific breakthroughs into real-world solutions that are accessible and affordable is central to the IGI’s mission, and the IGI seeks to support and guide nascent entrepreneurs who align with the IGI’s mission.
WIES starts by offering fellows one-year of paid custom bio-entrepreneurship programming to further their research and form their businesses. At the end of that year, up to two fellows may be selected by our generous third-party donor to receive up to $1,000,000 directly. These funds will have no strings attached and will help the chosen fellows further the development of their startup venture.
The WIES program is a one-year fellowship to explore turning your research into a business with the exclusive opportunity to receive a no-strings donation of up to $1,000,000 directly from our donor.
We generally start accepting applications in the Spring, with decisions by June 1. Programming starts in September.
Derfogail Delcassian is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley. She is developing a new approach for long-term genetic reprogramming using mRNA for transient protein expression to regulate the epigenome. As a WIES fellow, she plans to pilot her idea using a melanoma model to understand how tumor immune cell behavior changes following receiving mRNA that encodes epigenetic modifying enzymes. In this study, Delcassian will examine the role of macrophages in the immune response to cancer. If successful, this would be a new platform technology bridging the gap between the transient nature of mRNA therapeutics and the permanence of genome editing and could be used to treat many diseases and apply to a number of fields including tumor biology and immunology.
Yue Clare Lou
Yue Clare Lou is currently completing her Ph.D. in the laboratory of Jill Banfield, Director of Microbiology at the IGI, before starting her fellowship in Fall. Lou studies the relationship between the gut microbiome and infant health. She recently led the development of a gut microbiome diagnostic platform and has published a proof-of-concept preprint in which she demonstrated that functional predictions from metagenomic analyses of infant microbiomes could be tested and recreated experimentally using cultivated microbiomes. Specifically, her work describes how microbial communities, which are specific to each individual, work together to metabolize oligosaccharides in human milk. Her work emphasizes the importance of supplementing individualized interventions as each infant (and also adult!) is colonized by a unique collection of gut microbes. As a WIES fellow, Clare will expand the platform she developed to identify additional infant gut microbial markers that can be leveraged to guide personalized microbiome interventions.
Alice Refermat is currently the Director of the Center for CRISPR Target Discovery at the IGI. She co-invented a platform technology, ZFPOFF, for heritable epigenetic gene repression using artificial zinc-finger proteins. As a WIES fellow, she proposes to use this technology to develop a treatment for KRAS-based cancers. Alterations in the KRAS gene are found in 23 percent of all adult cancers, including a high percentage of lung, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers. Several cancer-causing mutations in KRAS still have no specific drug available, leaving patients with limited treatment options. If successful, Refermat believes this technology could be translated to treat other cancers associated with other cancer-driving genes that currently lack specific treatments.
Kelsey Hern is currently completing her Ph.D. in Prof. Adam Arkin’s lab at UC Berkeley before starting her fellowship in Fall. Hern is working on the identification of airway microbiome constituents that require only a single dose to stably colonize the lung and act as probiotics by preventing death from respiratory infections. As a WIES fellow, she proposes to build on her dissertation work to develop a platform that will enable the prevention and continuous monitoring of various respiratory diseases. She plans to pilot this idea in lung cancer. Hern is excited to be colleagues with the team at IGI’s Berkeley Initiative for Optimized Microbiome Editing (BIOME), which will be extremely beneficial to achieving her goals.
Follow along with the WIES Fellows and how they are progressing on the IGI's social media channels (see bottom of page for links).
Navneet Matharu is an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, the Institute for Human Genetics, and School of Pharmacy at UC San Francisco, and is a co-founder of Regel Therapeutics Inc, a gene therapy startup based in Berkeley CA and Cambridge, MA. As a WIES fellow, Matharu is working to target genetic diseases caused by gene dosage defects, where a copy of a gene is inactivated or deleted, resulting in physiological symptoms. Gene dosage effects on the X chromosome disproportionately affect women. Matharu’s previous work provided a proof of concept approach to addressing gene dosage effects using CRISPR, and she will further develop this approach during her WIES fellowship. Learn more about Navneet here.
Jenny Hamilton is currently a postdoc in the Doudna lab at the University of California, Berkeley where she works to develop novel approaches for delivering CRISPR-based genome editing tools. Hamilton’s project for the WIES fellowship will explore a new method of improving targeted genome engineering in humans using CRISPR. Currently, CRISPR therapies can be limited by our ability to deliver genome editing tools to disease-relevant cell types. Hamilton’s work builds on her research on viral-like particles (VLPs), where she has demonstrated the ability to target delivery of genome-editing molecules by harnessing the natural abilities of viruses. Precise, in-vivo delivery of CRISPR to specific cells and tissues will further enable new human therapies and lower the cost of treatment. Learn more about Jenny here.
Lin Du is currently a postdoc in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, where she works on scalable fabrication of biosensor arrays. For Du’s WIES fellowship, she aims to develop synthetic DNA biosensors for precise detection of hundreds of species of viruses simultaneously using aptamers. Aptamers are synthetic nucleic acids used for detection and capture that can be rapidly and reliably designed, optimized for both diagnostics and therapeutic purposes. Aptamer-based platforms could prove to be transformative and broadly applicable in detection and monitoring of infectious diseases, as well as potentially transferable to other medical and environmental applications. Learn more about Lin here.