Listen to our new conversation with Kristy Shuda McGuire about her passion for training students in the life sciences; programs and partnerships within the Wistar Institute; and how drug development companies can help build out the workforce in the Philadelphia biocluster.
Welcome to LabNotes. I’m Joe Fetterman from Colliers Life Sciences advisors and we’re here today with Kristy Shuda McGuire, dean of Biomedical Studies at the Wistar Institute. Kristy, welcome to LabNotes.
Thanks for having me, Joe!
It’s great to have you. In fact, we’re really pleased that you could join us because we’re talking about a theme that’s become increasingly important in our minds as we look at the Philadelphia cluster. That’s really the training of bioprocessing staff and the wave of biomanufacturing that’s on its way, both in terms of the needs of growing drug development companies, and the facilities that are now available for companies to actually advance and do biomanufacturing in the Philadelphia cluster. It's exciting to have you! Kristy, you're really an interesting story because you are both a student of the life sciences and you've taken all that training and learning that you've done and you're really applying that to spreading that out and in your role as dean.
That's right Joe. I was born in Philadelphia, raised in New Jersey and then did a bachelor's degree at Loyola University in Maryland, but I came home to Philadelphia and got a job as a research assistant or laboratory technician in a lab and also earned a Master's of Science Education. Then I decided that I really wanted to learn more about the work I was doing in biomedical research in the lab so I went on to earn a PhD in genetics at Thomas Jefferson University.
So, two quick questions come to mind: what brought you back to Philly and why the passion for training others?
I think everybody from Philadelphia eventually comes home. Some people never leave and then other people come back faster and that's something that we should capitalize on, people’s love for their hometown in this area. My passion for education I think has been there since I extracted my first DNA molecule and was able to actually visualize that as a high school student and you know. I kind of knew not only did I want to do this, but I wanted to let help incite that enthusiasm in others.
Let's turn our attention to the programs you have going on at the Wistar Institute. There's so much going on and I'm not sure our audience is really fully aware of the depth and breadth of the great work that you’re doing. Let’s start with a quick overview.
The Wistar Institute is our nation’s first independent biomedical research institute. We have a pipeline of programs for students from high school through undergraduate and graduate school as well as postdoctoral fellows. Our high school program has been running since at least 1994 and we are excited to be able to bring back a version of it this year after a pause due to the pandemic. Our undergraduate programs, we’ve had a long-standing biomedical technician training program in partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia. That program expanded into a biomedical research technician apprenticeship which was the first ever registered non-traditional apprenticeship in biomedical research. With that, the biomedical technician training program was able to be registered as a pre-apprenticeship. We also developed a course in Life Science Innovation in partnership with LaSalle University, and then our new partnership with Cheyney University, the nation's first historically black college or university, has Cheney students taking advantage of both the hands-on training in a course called Biomedical Research Methods and the Life Sciences Innovation course. On the graduate side, we teach courses in cancer biology and vaccine and immunotherapy for students at the University of Pennsylvania. We also have students from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania who choose to do their thesis work with our faculty at Wistar. We have a PHD program in cancer biology with University of the Sciences, which after this summer will be under Saint Joseph’s University. Then we have a new program that we even managed to kick off during the pandemic, a PhD program with the University of Bologna, which is the western world's first university, in Italy. Our biggest group of trainees at Wistar is our postdoctoral fellows, so they come to Wistar for new excellent scientific training in our laboratories and we have been developing more co-curricular programming to really prepare them for the next step in their careers after that post-doctoral fellowship.
You're really hitting the continuum from early on all the way through postdoc. It’s very impressive.
Thanks, it’s great when we see students in one of those earlier programs and then we see them back for a graduate or postdoctoral fellowship.
So one of the great challenges is how do you keep the numbers up, to keep up with the pace of everything that's happening in Philadelphia? So I know that there's been some recent grants that you've won, certainly money is a big part of it, and in addition I think it sounds like there's also ways that organizations in the region, that companies doing drug development work and for that matter Big Pharma can be supportive of your efforts, so let's talk about both the funding side and the way companies can support the great work you’re doing.
Thanks Joe. Wistar is small, we only have about thirty-two laboratories, but we like to say that we punch above our weight and that is certainly true with the amount of education and training that we do.
Kristy, what I love about what you said is that the continuum of lives and careers that you're touching literally from high school through postdoc, it’s phenomenal. I know a lot of that has been programs that Wistar has funded but now you’re getting support from a number of federal and even local sources.
That's right, Joe. We're really grateful for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry through their PAsmart program has supported our workforce development programs, mainly that biomedical technician training pre-apprenticeship and biomedical research technician apprenticeship. When we were unable to start a new cohort of that biomedical technician training program in the summer of 2020, we received a grant from GSK's Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective to accelerate our biomedical technician training program, take it from a two summer program to a one summer program to really increase the time in which students could finish our program and move into permanent positions. We recently also received a National Science Foundation grant entitled ExCEEd BTT - expansion, curriculum, evolution enhancement during biotechnician training. That will expand our biomedical training program in terms of the number of students served and also the region served to expand to other community colleges. We’re also lucky enough to have just received a US Economic Development award to follow that same workforce development model of apprenticeship and develop a new apprenticeship in quality science which we know will be a big need in the Philadelphia region going forward as our industry grows.
You’ve got a busy curriculum! There’s no doubt about it. You mentioned GSK, and it really peaks a question I’ve been sitting with for a while, which is how can companies like GSK or smaller drug development companies help you in your mission to really build out the workforce? How can they also make it a more inclusive workforce in the region, which I think is a really important ingredient as well, that life sciences can really be a facility for not only PHD candidates, but for people of all levels and skills to participate and contribute to the good work that’s going on in the cluster?
So GSK’s contributions through that Philadelphia STEM Equity initiative have been huge. They’ve really come in with the commitment to support programs that have been operating in this region and doing so successfully, to help us adapt to conditions through the pandemic and have some resources to be able to grow both larger pharmaceutical companies like GSK and smaller biotech companies, we really need to think about them serving as training sites for students at all levels.
They want to hire employees that have the skills that they need, but these employees have to be able to learn them and apply them. At Wistar, we’re really taking care of the teaching of these biomedical laboratory skills, but we really need those lab experiences and internships for students to have the opportunity to practice and apply those skills. They will then be the employees those companies want to hire.
That’s great! Hopefully we can see much more support and more opportunities for the students that you’re training. I want to thank you for your time today, we’re really excited about the work that you’re doing. It’s so important and there’s so much going on, we could’ve spent an hour here easily together. We want to come back and visit with you again to see how the programs are growing and developing.
Thanks for having me, Joe.