Meet Dr. Lauren Quattrochi: Multidisciplinary Pharmacologist, Virologist, Electrophysiologist, and New Adjunct Faculty Member for the Biodefense Graduate Program

This spring, the Schar School welcomes a new course with new adjunct faculty member Dr. Lauren Quattrochi! Dr. Quattrochi (aka, Dr. Q) is a classically trained as an electrophysiologist and neuro-pharmacologist. Over the evolution of her career, she has worked within the biopharma industry, non-profits and for the past 4 years, in support of the government. She is currently a principal biotechnologist leading national level scientific and biosecurity initiatives within the US government. At the moment, Dr. Quattrochi serves as a technical advisor on both Hantavirus and COVID-19 vaccine development and manufacturing. She has led key projects within the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) on rapid vaccine preparedness, the Biomedical Research and Advanced Development Authority (BARDA) on medical countermeasure sustainability, as well as the NIH’s Office of Extramural Research (OER) on accelerating breakthrough medical technologies from start-up biotechs. Prior to her current work, she spearheaded projects at Pfizer on drug delivery, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and metabolism for Schizophrenia, depression and Alzheimer’s. Dr. Quattrochi has had the pleasure to teach STEM on infectious diseases in partnership with Brown University at the NIH, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and overseas in Greece. In her spare time, she teaches power vinyasa yoga and is a small business owner of scientifically-inspired jewelry.

Dr. Q’s course, Biotechnology and Society (BIOD 762), will examine the growing role of biotechnology in modern society, including benefits to human and animal health, industrial applications, and potential for misuse. Students will analyze key variables influencing the revolution in biotechnology and impact both nationally and internationally. Additionally, the course will explore the political, economic, social, legal, security, and ethical implications of advances in life sciences and biotechnology. This course will be delivered in an asynchronous online format, so to facilitate more colloquial interaction, Dr. Q will host informal fireside chats – bring your cocoa!

Dr. Q has enjoyed a lifelong interest in science. In high school, her first science project focused on brain activity, the idea sparked by the grand mal seizures her grandmother suffered. Her interest in neuroscience & desire to understand how the brain functions spurred Dr. Q to major in physiology and neurobiology with a minor in microbiology. Throughout undergrad, she worked in an analytical chemistry lab that worked with the US Coast Guard to fingerprint oil spill culprits using in-field Raman Spectroscopy. Dr. Q said that this experience working outside her field of study was very valuable, and led to her work at Pfizer in their drug formulation as well as absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination (ADME) divisions. While working full time at Pfizer, she earned a master’s in biology with a focus in intranasal brain drug delivery. Dr. Q later earned another master’s in pharmacology.

Dr. Q decided to pursue a PhD in Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology and Biotechnology at Brown University. With a PhD, Dr. Q could be one of the scientists crafting tools for medical doctors’ toolboxes by working on new biotechnologies and therapeutics.  Though she did not commence her program intending to study retinal neuroscience, Dr. Q discovered the M6 cell type in the eye, which is a type of cell tied to the body’s circadian rhythm and pupillary constriction. Her own unexpected academic journey in retinal neuroscience taught her a valuable lesson she passes on to her students: school is not necessarily about what you think you want to know, but about being open to what you could know. Do not close yourself off to unanticipated opportunities!

After earning her PhD, Dr. Q served as a director at Sense About Science USA, leading a national initiative advocating for clinical trial data sharing and strong biostatistical design. Dr. Q urges that we need continuity across longitudinal data and we need to share null results. The lack of sharing data and the disincentives to publish null results leads to wasted time and money, but also unnecessary risk for trial subjects.  

In 2016, Dr. Q transitioned to the MITRE Corporation, a federally-funded R&D center operator, working with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DoD). At HHS, she has engaged with the NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) program, which was launched to move scientific data into a cloud-based platform to improve transparency. Ideally, every scholar will upload their data to the platform, so other academics can use it and better inform their own research. Presently, 88% of NIH data are “dark data” – there data are not housed in widely accessible repositories. Engaging with the NIH National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Q has led work for Dr. Anthony Fauci, in conjunction with Dr. Barney Graham and Dr.  Nick Bushar, to design a framework for rapid vaccine preparedness. The framework covered six high priority pathogens, to include MERS, and devised a landscape for breakthrough vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to address outbreak scenarios. The idea was to construct a platform that allowed the “plug and play” of a new infectious disease into the framework to guide development of a quick and easy vaccine.

As a vital component of the federal COVID-19 response, Dr. Q focuses on novel methods of manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines. Over these many months of the ongoing pandemic, she has investigated creative options for vaccine manufacturing, such as the potential for biofermentation at breweries. COVID-19 highlighted the lack of sustainability in the medical countermeasure (MCM) ecosystem, impeding the maintenance of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). At the Office of Extramural Research of the NIH, she led a team spearheading advancing small biotechnology firms with orphan drugs, vaccines or diagnostics for diseases that are not lucrative once products enter the market. Dr. Q is currently leading efforts with the DoD focused on manufacturing COVID-19 biotherapeutics. One of the hurdles in this project centers on the administration method, electroporation, which uses an electronic pulse to temporarily expand pores in cell membranes to allow for permeation. Electroporation injection devices are rather difficult to come by, and this form of inoculation is foreign to the population, sparking worry about the acceptability of this method. Speaking of the public, Dr. Q expects many people will struggle to decide which vaccine to take, complicating vaccine and serious adverse event (SAE) tracking for the public health sector.

Pivoting to Dr. Q’s advice to biodefense students and budding experts, she encourages those wanting to work in government to get a security clearance ASAP. Internships with government agencies in defense, intelligence, national security, and law enforcement often facilitate obtaining a clearance.

Being a biodefense professional often means being a “jack of all trades” and “master of none.” On the research side, you will always have to learn, so embrace your status as a lifelong learner. In general, a graduate degree is often more about how to think and self-teach, and less about being a specialist.

At Brown University, Dr. Q established the first group for graduate women in science (GWISE). Prior to this group, there was no forum or platform for women in the sciences. Now, the club is nearly 300 strong! Dr. Q stresses that we should leave our biases at the door. When she walks into a room or zooms into a meeting, everyone is human. She values folks for their contribution to problem solving.

She also wants to remind all students and budding professions to leave your ego at the door. Finally, Dr. Q points out that we all make mistakes, the key is to learn from them.

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