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The love for life science

By Caroline Gordon

MetroWest STEM Education Network (MSEN) hosted “Life Science Jobs: Demystifying Career Paths 101” via Zoom Oct. 18.

Irene Porro, director of the Christa McAuliffe Center, began the discussion by introducing the moderator Gabrielle Brambilla, and panelists Jason Krantz, Amir Handzel, Maria Wendt and Kenn Turner.

Brambilla is the CEO of Alira Health, a company that aims to help organizations in the healthcare and life science fields to innovate and succeed.

Additionally, he is the co-founder of the MetroWest Life Science Networks.

Brambilla, a native of Milan, Italy, said he was initially interested in political science. However, he changed his career path to work in the life science field.

He discussed COVID-19 and the issues the pandemic has caused the community. However, he said the pandemic provoked interest in life science.

Krantz, the CEO and founder of Definitive Healthcare, a Framingham-based company providing commercial intelligence to the healthcare industry by analyzing healthcare data, discussed being an entrepreneur.

“You don’t need to be a genius to be excited about life sciences,” he said.

Krantz said those who are critical thinkers and problem solvers, should pursue a career in life sciences.

Wendt, who leads biologics research for the company Sanofi, one of the top five pharmaceutical companies in the world, discussed the origins of her interest in life science.

In addition to leading biologics research, she is head of the digital biologics network, which uses machines and artificial intelligence for drug discovery.

Wendt said, “I grew up in the Philippines. When I was small, I knew right away – math is beautiful.”

She said her grandmother taught her fractions when she was 4.

Wendt said she went to a science based high school in the Philippines, which contributed to her passions for chemistry, biology and physics. She chose chemical engineering as her undergraduate study. Her Ph.D is in chemical engineering with a focus on the use of artificial intelligence.

Handzel is the global head of science research and engagement of Mathworks, located on Route 9.

He said Mathworks creates computational tools such as data science, which scientists can use for calculations and computations.

Handzel said Mathworks collaborates internationally with scientists on computational problems.

“It’s a very interesting intersection of math and data sciences with other types of fields,” he said.

Handzel discussed how he became interested in his field.

“In elementary school, I had the privilege of having my first formal class in chemistry – I was hooked. From the moment I had that class, I knew I would be a scientist,” he said.

Handzel touched upon the homemade lab his parents helped him create in high school.

“I look at this [the homemade lab] in retrospect as amazing,” he said.

When Handzel began college, he said he became more interested in “the fundamental processes of nature,” which led him to study physics as an undergraduate, then particle physics as a graduate.

Handzel said he got his Ph.D in applied mathematics and neuroscience.

Turner, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Science Center, discussed the center’s achievements.

He said in 2008, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts made a $10 billion commitment to solidify the center’s dominance in the life science field – the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative.

Turner added, in 2018 the Massachusetts Life Science Center and Gov. Charlie Baker signed a continuing act to invest an additional $623 million into the center, which will last until 2023.

“My team and I serve as the hub of the Massachusetts life science ecosystem,” he said.

Turner added, “We need to have more women and more minorities. That’s something we need to work on. We need to have more women and minority entrepreneurs. I want to see more people of color and women running companies in the life sciences.”


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