Nanotechnology at Northwestern

Meet Sraeyes Sridhar, a graduate student in the Mrksich Group

By Mark Heiden

March 09, 2022

Sraeyes Sridhar is a graduate student in the Mrksich Group, which uses the tools of organic chemistry, materials science, and biochemistry to address important challenges in and at the intersection of chemistry and biology.

Sraeyes SridharWhere are you originally from?

I’m from Norman, OK.

Where did you complete your undergraduate and master’s degree?

I got my undergraduate degree from Georgia Tech and my master’s degree from Cornell University — both in Biomedical Engineering.

When did you first become interested in biomedical engineering?

I got an opportunity to begin research during high school in Dr. Binil Starly’s lab at the University of Oklahoma. I mainly focused on 3D-printing of liver cells in hydrogels using ‘MakerBot’ printers. This early experience got me hooked onto biomedical engineering.

How do you explain what you study to non-scientists?

We have a really cool platform technology — called Megamolecules — that allows us to treat any protein or small molecule drug as simple ‘LEGO’ building blocks. Using these tools, we can assemble novel drugs — like antibodies — that can be used as new diagnostics and treatments as well as tools for basic science research. I’m currently building drugs that recruit your immune system (T-cells) to recognize and kill breast cancer cells. In this process, I am also uncovering new design rules towards improved structure and efficacy.

What inspired you to focus on engineering Megamolecule-based multivalent antibody scaffolds? What do you hope to achieve with them?

Previously, my work has spanned the breadth of ‘tissue engineering and regenerative medicine’, so I wanted to branch into fields where I didn’t have much of a footing. More specifically, I really wanted to delve into protein engineering and next-generation biologic drug design while still leveraging my previous research expertise in immunology. As an engineer who loves building things, I was immediately sold when Dr. Milan Mrksich introduced his modular assembly platform and wanted someone to build new immunotherapies. With that in mind, joining the Mrksich lab early on was an obvious choice and a great fit.

I have unfortunately lost quite a few family members and friends to cancer, so the breast cancer project I’m currently on hits close to home and helps keep me inspired to keep working. In the process of building new antibody scaffolds, I am also establishing new fundamental design rules for next-generation biologic drugs, which is fascinating on its own. Hopefully my work will guide future therapy design to improve disease treatment, management, and eventually, eradication.

What has been a highlight of your time at Northwestern?

I really appreciate how “real-world” focused Northwestern is. As graduate students in engineering, we still get opportunities to take classes at the Kellogg School of Management and participate in commercialization programs through our tech transfer office to help actualize and translate our research.

During my first year, I was able to participate in INVOForward, a commercialization workshop for biomedical research hosted by the Innovation and New Ventures Office. Through the program, I was able to gain insightful perspectives on translating research from the bench into opportunities for venture creation.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your work or your time at Northwestern?

The pandemic, unsurprisingly, was the biggest wrench thrown into my time here at Northwestern. Having an essential pause to my active research for months while also navigating living in an uncertain quarantine, emerging social unrest, and having a virtual qualifying exam all at once is not something I look back on fondly, but in hindsight it’s something I’m happy to have overcome.

Once it became clear to me that biologics will not only help a return to normalcy, but may also help mitigate future pandemics, my passion for the work that I am doing here was renewed.

Can you tell me about your experiences either being mentored or mentoring others?

I have had amazing opportunities throughout my academic research journey to have great student, postdoc, and faculty mentors at all the institutions I’ve had the privilege of attending. The amount of knowledge I’ve gained through direct mentorship has had a tremendous effect on where I am today.

At Northwestern, I’ve gotten the opportunity to mentor undergraduate and junior graduate students in the lab. Teaching always requires a deeper understanding of the subject matter so every moment of mentorship has challenged and tested my fundamental knowledge, ultimately making me a better scientist. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my mentors, and the least I can do is try to pass on what I know to the next round of future researchers.

What are your hobbies outside of the lab?

I love to cook and try new restaurants, play music, and spend time with my friends and fiancée.