Partners in Scientific Progress
Students collaborate with faculty and industry researchers
Step inside Merrimack’s Center for Biotechnology and Biomedical Sciences (CBBS) and you’ll find science students shoulder to shoulder with professors and corporate scientists toiling to unlock the mysteries of cell biology. You’ll hear industry pioneers at the CBBS-sponsored “Bio to Business” conference discussing how they brought scientific discoveries and technical innovations to market. And, you’ll see CBBS undergraduate fellows who participated in a genomesequencing project over intersession guiding genetics students in their own DNA sequencing projects. These unique experiences, rarely found on a college campus, are just a few of the exciting interdisciplinary initiatives spearheaded by the CBBS.
At CBBS’s fully equipped, modern laboratory housed in the Mendel Science Center, biology, chemistry, and engineering students conduct research with faculty and corporate partners, including Nexcelom Bioscience. This local biotechnology company enjoys a three-year partnership with Merrimack, launched only months after the start of the CBBS. Located in neighboring Lawrence, Massachusetts, Nexcelom is a leading manufacturer of image-based cytometry equipment, tools that measure and characterize cells.
Collaboration advances scientific discovery
Right on campus, Nexcelom’s corporate scientists perform experiments that test their state-of-the-art automated cell counter, called the Cellometer®. CBBS faculty assist with research design and recruit undergraduates to work on projects as interns. In 2011, biology major Alisha Wilkinson ’12 interned at CBBS alongside Charlotte Berkes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology at Merrimack. Together, they studied the Histoplasma capsulatum microbe, the leading cause of respiratory fungal infections worldwide. Working in partnership with Nexcelom, the team tracked the growth of the disease-causing fungi during infection.
Alisha and fellow Merrimack student, Ben Paradis ’12 also worked with Dr. Berkes and Nexcelom scientist Leo Li-Yang Chan to co-author a scientific paper based on the research, titled “Rapid quantification of pathogenic fungi by Cellometer image-based cytometry,” published in the Journal of Microbiological Methods. Consistent with the spirit of innovation, Dr. Berkes, Alisha, and Ben also presented their findings online in a peer-reviewed video journal of biological, medical, chemical, and physical research, called the Journal of Visualized Experiments (jove.com). Filmed at the CBBS, this video demonstrated their methodology for using the Cellometer to quantify fungi, and will soon become available for scientists and students around the world to see.
Collaboration offers career-defining experiences
For Dr. Berkes, collaboration with Nexcelom furthers her professional interest in immunology, cell biology, and genetics. It also enables her to develop new ways to use cytometry technology in research and in the classroom. Dr. Berkes, who earned her B.S. at Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. at University of Washington, and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, explains “It is a natural fit, as I came to Merrimack with previous experience studying fungi and diseases caused by fungal pathogens.” For Alisha, the hands-on experience offered invaluable insights as she considered careers in scientific research. In fact, today, Alisha works as a staff assistant in the gastrointestinal unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. And, for Ben, the experience led to a job after graduation at Nexcelom as a technical support specialist, serving as a liaison between the company and scientists who use the Cellometer.
Another Nexcelom intern, Danny Laverty ’13, will further his interest in science in a Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University. And, Merrimack student Stephanie Saldi ’13, received a stipend funded by Nexcelom to spend the summer working as one of two undergraduate fellows at the biotech firm. Dr. Janine LeBlanc-Straceski, director of the CBBS, values the myriad opportunities the corporate partnership offers Merrimack students, “Working side-by-side with industry professionals from Nexcelom, our students are able to bridge the gap between academic theory and the practice of the scientific enterprise.”
Beyond enhancing student and faculty growth, the successful partnership between Merrimack and Nexcelom helps advance science and the commercial application of science to improve
human health for all.
About Nexcelom Bioscience
With multiple patents pending, Nexcelom is a leader and innovator in the field of image-based cytometry for cell analysis. Thousands of customers, including the top ten pharmaceutical companies, rely on Nexcelom’s Cellometer instruments for automated cell concentration and viability analysis. The company is focused on providing novel tools to meet the specific needs of today’s researchers.