An Interview with Joy Wolfram, Forbes (US & Canada 2019) Healthcare

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski
May 5 · 9 min read

(#00017) — Life is short, so take risks.

  1. Choosing a Career Path
  2. Forbes 30 Under 30
  3. How to Find Your Calling
  4. Overcoming Obstacles
  5. Teaching Style
  6. Success & The Importance of Education
  7. One Thing You Wish You Knew
  8. The Things That Matter in Life
  9. Ten Years From Now
  10. Final Advice

Science has come a long way, but there is still so much more we can achieve.

Nowadays we can do things that were somewhat impossible to imagine just a few decades ago. Scientists found the answers to so many questions, and with that, they improved the quality of our lives, together with our life expectancy.

For everything that humanity managed to achieve over the years, it took so much time and effort, but we eventually got there. It is because humans are resilient and don’t give up even when something seems impossible to do. It’s one of our most valuable traits.

Back in the 90s, nanotechnology had its modest beginnings in medicine. Fast forward not more than three decades, this technological branch has made amazing improvements in modern medicine, and it is about to make astounding breakthroughs in the years to come.

Ultimately, behind every scientific discovery stands a person that was motivated and persistent enough to reach it by all means.

Today, we get to meet one of these individuals, and her name is Dr. Joy Wolfram.

She is the director of the Nanomedicine and Extracellular Vesicles Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

Her amazing work in this field has got her the recognition by Forbes and her name was listed on Forbes’s list30 under 30 US & Canada 2019: Healthcare.

If you want to learn more about her work at the clinic, as well as her contribution to science, take a few minutes of your time to read the interview I did with her.

I promise it will be worth your time.

Hi Joy, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me! Would you mind introducing yourself? Who is Joy Wolfram? How and why did you choose your current career path?

Thank you very much for the opportunity to be interviewed.

I am the director of the Nanomedicine and Extracellular Vesicles Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

I have designed many preclinical nanoparticles for the treatment of various diseases, including cancer.

My goal is to develop innovative nanomedicines that bring the next generation of treatments directly to the clinic.

My mission is also to inspire and support underrepresented minorities in science, and I am actively involved in community outreach.

As an 11-year-old, I accompanied our dog Ronja to the veterinarian to treat an acute skin infection. I watched in fascination as skin swabs of the infection were seeded in Petri dishes to determine a suitable antibiotic treatment.

I asked the veterinarian if I could have some culture supplies but she shook her head.

However, as I was walking out, she passed me a bag and whispered, “don’t tell anyone.” I excitedly went home and started my own miniature microbiology laboratory.

My first experiment was swabbing shelves in our fridge. After a few days, the Petri dishes were covered with shapes and colors. I told my family that our fridge was crawling with bacteria! They were horrified. I realized that our fridge was not unusually dirty; science was just unusually cool!

Bacteria are everywhere but they are not visible to the naked eye. Science opens up new worlds that would otherwise go unnoticed, which is what inspired me to choose my current career path.

Further, I would like to congratulate you on making among Forbes 30 under 30! It must be a great honor! Was this one of your goals? What do you think contributed the most to it?

Thank you.

This award was given in recognition of my work on preclinical nanomedicine treatment strategies, some of which are expected to enter clinical trials in the near future.

Although this award was not a specific goal of mine, it is important, as it provides wide exposure to the public of the different faces of scientific leadership (including young women).

For all those who still struggle to find their calling, can you please explain how did you find yours? When did you know this is what you are ‘meant’ to do?

Everything I do is for patients, who provide daily inspiration for my research and serve as a reminder of the importance and urgency of my mission.

As a child, I witnessed many of my friends’ parents succumb to cancer.

I was frustrated that several decades of cancer research had led to only minor improvements in patient outcomes.

I wanted to change the way cancer research was performed and decided to work with nanotechnology.

What are some of the most common difficulties in your field? What is your method for overcoming obstacles?

My biggest struggle has been witnessing patients die and being unable to do anything about it.

A year ago, my friend Rebecca died of cancer at the age of 31. She had an eight-year struggle with breast cancer, and it came back three times. She reached out to me after having exhausted all other options. I was her last hope. I failed her, the medical community failed her, and the scientific community failed her.

She is not the only one, as someone dies of cancer every five seconds. This is why we need more research. Today, I am committed to having Rebecca be one of the last patients that I fail.

What is your favorite thing about teaching? What can people expect from your classes? What is your teaching style like?

I believe that it is important to inspire students to think differently and have the courage to pursue challenging research that tackles major healthcare problems.

One of my most important roles as a scientist is to create an environment that fosters the development of minority leaders who go on to inspire others, leading to exponential effects that spread through future generations.

In fact, one of my female students recently commented:

I am pleased and motivated to be a member of a group that is led by a young woman, as this gives me hope that even though I am part of a gender minority in science I can still be a future leader in medical research”.

I completely understand that education is necessary for success in your field. However, do you believe education is always the key to success? What is your definition of success and why?

Education is always necessary. However, this does not have to be formal education. In some fields, the best way to get educated is through professional work experience.

Everyone has a unique path, and we should embrace it. My definition of success is making a difference for patients, developing future leaders, and increasing scientific diversity.

What is the one thing you wish you knew before you started your career in medicine? Please explain.

To stress less.

Most things that we worry about today, we will not remember a year from now.

According to you, what matters in life? What do you do for fun? Who is the person you would not have made it without?

What matters is finding a purpose that benefits the greater good and being part of something bigger than yourself. I do outreach activities for fun and have organized scientific boot camps for young women and African American youth labeled at risk.

These boot camps include hands-on scientific experiments to inspire the next generation. We have also written an instruction manual of these activities, that has been shared with many organizations.

I am very fortunate to have outstanding mentors who have supported me throughout my career. Professor Mauro Ferrari, my doctoral mentor in the United States, always pushes me to grow, encourages me to pursue crazy ideas, and shares his keen intellect.

I really admire his strong vision that everything is possible, and it has been astounding to witness that reality often conforms to his beliefs.

Professor Ferrari was also instrumental in planning the next stage of my career after graduating. I am also very grateful to Professor Yuliang Zhao, my doctoral mentor in China, for warmly welcoming me to his research group and culture.

He has provided me with a lot of guidance and many opportunities throughout my career. He has a lifelong dedication and passion for nanotechnology and even named his son Nano.

I stay in frequent contact with Professors Ferrari and Zhao who have both become close friends. I look to them for inspiration on how to improve health care and biomedical sciences.

Where do you see yourself and your work 10 years from now? Is there a certain number of publications you want to write by then?

My career goal is to benefit a large number of future patients with the nanomedicine treatments that we are developing.

The development of new therapeutic agents is a laborious process that usually takes at least 12 years and costs $2.7 billion. Despite the hurdles ahead, we do not give up and keep our end goal in focus.

What would you advise everyone who thinks about pursuing a career in the medical field?

Find a bigger purpose. Write down your goals and make them specific and exciting.

Life is short, so take risks. Be persistent, as this quality seems to be the main determining factor of success. Network like crazy.

Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot be a leader in science, because we need you!

It’s beyond amazing that we are living in an era that exhibits so much improvement on a daily basis. It is even more amazing that individuals such as Joy Wolfram will never rest until they reach their goals.

There is so much left that we can do to improve the world we leave in and reduce the suffering.

These amazing scientists show incredible willpower and determination to do something more in their sphere of work and help millions of people in the process.

And yes, it might take some time until we get the final results, but at least we know that someone out there cares and is willing to spend time and effort into making the world a better place for everyone.

Let this be your inspiration.

“The Mission to Empower 1 Million Entrepreneurs”

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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski

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The Logician (Dreamer) 👁️ Don’t follow me. I am lost too!😎 Founder of HE Group - (Investor) 📈

The Logician

The Official Publication of The Logician

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