In the fall of 2003, a young woman with a PhD from MIT found herself joining paths with Northeastern University and beginning a new journey. A journey of teaching, a journey of independent research and a journey of added responsibility. Firmly walking into the academic world, she dared the roles of researcher, teacher, manager and mother all at once. What made her a success was her grit, determination and ambition. Her dreams, her aspirations made her question the impossible and attempt the esoteric. Her philosophies, her science were aimed at a brighter future and a bigger change. She taught and learned and professed to address the needs of the world and bring about compassion in action. She had no fear to translate the science to application and the idea to innovation. She defined strength, purpose and passion. This was she, Rebecca Carrier – unafraid and unapologetic.
On a busy day, the Snell College of Engineering at Northeastern witnesses this multitasking superwoman running from pillar to post balancing an undergraduate class and running a multifaceted lab. An image that resonates with forever feels like yesterday for Carrier: “I cannot believe it’s been 15 years since I commenced on this difficult yet highly rewarding journey,” she says. Her ADDRES Lab has propelled the science of regenerative medicine and drug delivery since its inception and has made pioneering advances in the field. While the main focus of the research is spotlighted on studying the interactions between biological systems and materials in the gut, a personal ambition of Carrier also includes the study of retinal degeneration.
Research that aims to change the world
“My lab aims to understand what happens to the pill you pop and the way your body decides to react,” says Carrier. Adding, “We want to decipher all the information we can to piece together the puzzle that links the gut to the other body parts.” The research at the moment studies the interaction between the foods we eat the drugs we ingest. It studies the cascade events where one cell tells the other what to do and what not to do depending on the signal it receives from this interaction. Parallel studies include understanding and establishing links between the gut and the other body parts, using the human microbiome – the micro-organism population of the body. Who would have thought that depression may be linked to digestive states?
Diverse application of cutting edge technology to better lives
Carrier has diversified her academic interest because she believes her research can benefit her family in addition to society at large. “There is a history of retinal degeneration in my family,” she shares. And, “I believe in tackling problems and answering questions that bother me the most.” She utilized her basic understanding about tissue engineering and built on that foundation a therapy along with the Schepens Eye Institute for retinal degeneration which is now at a point of clinical study.
The ADDRES Lab trains students every year who contribute to Carrier’s vision with their expertise and proficiency. “I build my team with individuals who are extremely excited and passionate about science. The novel answers, the varied approaches and the basic personalities that come the table at team meetings is something that excites me the most,” Carrier proclaims. In her lab, a Postdoc and an undergrad are both welcome to display their abilities and take the research forward independently. “I aim to develop these students alongside the lab because alongside being a researcher I am a teacher. With my students growth, comes my growth,” she says.
Spinning out and Starting up
Entrepreneurial drives are common to Rebecca Carrier. Her philosophy of being able translate science to application positions her research for real world utilization, a philosophy that is exemplified by a spinout venture spearheaded by two of her PhD students studying the interactions between food and drugs. This research is of bountiful importance to premier pharmaceutical companies seeking to optimize the activity of their drugs. Efficient drug delivery, absorption and effect are the key characteristics of a good drug and optimizing existing approaches is the call of the hour.
Superwoman, Carrier has contributed significantly to the field of science and technology and created a platform and network for regenerative medicine at Northeastern University. Celebrating 15 years, her undying love and passion for her work has made her a memorable face in the department of Chemical Engineering and the Snell College of Engineering.
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Written by Divya Parikh