Home » Funded Researchers » Motivated to Innovate: Sofia Wareham Mathiassen Talks Industrial PhD, Patent Application, and Work-Life in R&D
Motivated to Innovate: Sofia Wareham Mathiassen Talks Industrial PhD, Patent Application, and Work-Life in R&D
Posted on 29.08.2023
From understanding carnivorous plants to developing antimicrobial strategies for pen injectors, Sofia Wareham Mathiassen’s research life is characterized by high levels of curiosity and inventiveness. And in many ways, she has only just begun.
Sofia Wareham Mathiassen is a biomedical engineer from the Danish Technical University (DTU) and the University of Copenhagen. This year, Sofia finished her Industrial PhD from the Danish Diabetes Academy in collaboration with the Department of Front-End Innovation at Novo Nordisk and the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Copenhagen.
Sofia’s focus on antimicrobial technologies for the next generation of medical devices has already taken her far in her research career.
We talked to Sofia about collaboration, motivation, and innovation.
You have many interesting collaborations behind you. One of these was the Wyss Institute at Harvard University – how did that come about?
Sofia Wareham Mathiassen: It was rather by chance. In the period between my Master’s and my PhD, I worked briefly as a consultant. During a task, I came upon a research article describing the antifouling (anti-attachment) nature of a Nepenthes pitcher plant and how this could be applied to medical devices to prevent fouling or attachment of proteins and bacteria. This carnivorous, pitcher-shaped plant utilises a liquid, “slippery” layer to prevent flies and other insects from attaching, causing them to slip and be digested in the enzymatic soup inside. A lab at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering used this concept to prevent blood coagulation on medical device tubing. When I read this, I was in awe.
I have always been fascinated by nature – specifically trees and plants. I even used to have a Venus flytrap myself! So, the idea of applying this prey-trapping mechanism from this quirky creature to solve engineering problems in the medical industry enthralled me. It just makes sense – evolution has refined these technologies for us for millions of years. We might as well use this to our advantage.
When it was time for me to find options for a research stay abroad and the original plan fell through, this article immediately came to mind. I contacted the principal investigator, Dr. Ingber, to discuss the possibility of doing research in his lab. Fortunately, he responded immediately, and we set up a call. A few months later, I found myself in Boston.
You really have been “industrious” in your time as an industrial PhD – with several papers as lead authors, and even a patent application. What motivates you in your work?
Sofia Wareham Mathiassen: Thank you – and I appreciate the pun! Ultimately, I think I am just very curious and, therefore, extremely motivated by learning, as simple as it sounds. Figuring out how things work and extrapolating these ideas to solve problems is exhilarating, especially once you get it right (or at least feel like you are getting close). I was also fortunate to land in a place that excites me – interweaving material science, microbiology, and immunology for drug delivery and diagnostics. In addition, of course, I had some great mentors and colleagues along the way. A solid support system is key.
Sofia’s PhD thesis, which she defended earlier this year, is titled Assessment of Antimicrobial Technologies for Future, Longer-use Medical Devices. The main objective of her PhD project was to evaluate the use of antimicrobial materials for medical devices.
Did your project evolve along the way, and if so – how?
Sofia Wareham Mathiassen: My project certainly evolved along the way. It went from being more focused on injection devices to being more broadly applied (such as for sensors and implants). I think it is important to let the project take shape in the most meaningful way for those involved. Even when this deviates from the original plan.
What can you tell about your patent application without going into too much detail?
Sofia Wareham Mathiassen: The patent application involves the work I did at Harvard. It focuses on making a biocompatible sensor coating that can prevent the attachment of bacteria, fungi, and other components found in blood, such as proteins. Though it sounds specific, the use case for this is broad and could include anything from implantable biosensors to wearables or industrial applications such as bioreactors. The ID involves some antimicrobial strategies for pen injectors that I worked on with a team at Novo Nordisk.
“Innovation” is a clear keyword in your research. How did the industrial grant format benefit you in this regard?
Sofia Wareham Mathiassen: Innovation comes in many forms. Real-world needs can spark this innovation. To this end, the industrial grant was instrumental in exposing me to environments where real-life requirements motivate solution spaces one might not have considered. A deeper understanding of the end-use setting also helps guide this innovation in a meaningful direction.
Sofia is currently employed as Advanced R&D Engineer at Novo Nordisk, where she drives external partnerships and helps develop next-generation drug delivery devices.
What does your work-life look like? Is there an overlap of skills you use in handling both relations-based aspects and R&D aspects?
Sofia Wareham Mathiassen: My current work-life involves cross-disciplinary collaboration with many stakeholders. While there is substantial overlap between the projects, the distinctive tasks require diverse ways of thinking. That being said, the older I get, the more I realise that all work is relations-based. Acknowledging this, even under the tightest deadlines, is fundamental to the success of any project.
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