Innovation in the Lab: Engineering New Ways to Treat Disease
Biomedical engineer Angie Pannier hopes some day her research will help treat disease and change people’s lives. In this episode of Faculty 101, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Green sits down with Dr. Pannier to discuss her research and how she finds work-life balance.
Learn more about the Pannier Lab ›› http://pannierlab.unl.edu/
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[00:00:00.670]Come on in.
[00:00:01.970]Angie Pannier welcomes
[00:00:03.380]University of Nebraska Lincoln Chancellor,
[00:00:05.760]Ronnie Green, into her East Campus lab.
[00:00:08.600]So, we mainly focus on gene delivery
[00:00:10.910]and tissue engineering.
[00:00:12.450]Introduces her graduate students.
[00:00:14.420]Chancellor Green, this is Albert and Amy,
[00:00:16.380]these are two PhD students in the lab.
[00:00:17.723]Hi, hi Albert, how are you?
[00:00:18.620]And talks about her research.
[00:00:20.390]Projects, we have about 10 different projects
[00:00:21.990]that we run, either alone or in collaboration
[00:00:24.220]with the researchers at UNL, UNMC,
[00:00:26.050]and the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center and--
[00:00:28.540]Dr. Pannier is a biomedical engineer.
[00:00:31.170]Dr. Green's background is animal science and genetics.
[00:00:34.740]In the lab, they speak the same language.
[00:00:37.420]We want that's there, and crisper,
[00:00:39.210]you just kind of deliver scissors--
[00:00:41.717]And they go in, and do editing
[00:00:42.630]of the native genome for you and you can do it with--
[00:00:45.340]And they share an insider's view
[00:00:47.400]on changes in technology.
[00:00:48.900]Because traditional ways of doing that
[00:00:50.310]was very laborious or it was difficult
[00:00:52.170]or it had a lot of errors, and this--
[00:00:53.757]Trust me, I know.
[00:00:56.213]You wanna come back to lab and try some crisper?
[00:00:57.233]Restriction endonucleases, boy do I--
[00:00:58.831]Yeah, right, you don't have to do any of that.
[00:00:59.680]I'm Mary Jane Bruce,
[00:01:00.900]and in this episode of Faculty 101,
[00:01:03.480]I turn the hosting duties over to Ronnie Green.
[00:01:06.740]In his interview, Dr. Green finds out
[00:01:08.710]more about Angie Pannier's career path,
[00:01:11.140]her life outside the lab, and her bacon project.
[00:01:16.187][Female Professor] Okay, you should switch partners now.
[00:01:17.650]To be able to inspire young people
[00:01:20.642][Another Female Professor] Ace your finals.
[00:01:21.587][Another Male Professor] It's really rewarding
[00:01:22.928][Different Female Professor] I love the students.
[00:01:25.010]Welcome to Faculty 101,
[00:01:27.230]life hacks and success stories from Nebraska faculty.
[00:01:34.210]First up, orientation.
[00:01:36.480]Who is Angie Pannier, and how did she get here?
[00:01:39.540]So Angie, I know you've got a beautiful family.
[00:01:41.420]Tell us a little bit about your family.
[00:01:42.750]Yes, my husband Tyler is a software developer
[00:01:45.360]here in town, and is a graduate of UNL,
[00:01:48.990]an alumni of computer engineering.
[00:01:51.150]And our daughter Lily will be 12 in May,
[00:01:54.560]and she's a dancer, a theater person,
[00:01:58.190]a singer, all types of performing.
[00:02:00.950]And our son Emerson is eight, and he is
[00:02:04.590]in TaeKwonDo and really loves video games,
[00:02:07.510]I think like all eight year olds.
[00:02:09.246]So what makes UNL a great a place to be?
[00:02:12.140]Well, I mean, honestly, this is what happened.
[00:02:16.320]I grew up, I had no idea really what I was gonna be.
[00:02:20.100]I was smart and my parents wanted me to be a doctor.
[00:02:23.900]They hadn't gone to college.
[00:02:26.150]I grew up in Fremont,
[00:02:27.150]and doctors were smart, and I think that was all
[00:02:29.810]that they could tell me, right?
[00:02:30.643]That you should go be a doctor.
[00:02:32.040]And I did not want to be a doctor.
[00:02:34.820]I didn't know, I loved math, science, and physics.
[00:02:37.840]I loved music, I loved writing,
[00:02:41.420]and I loved clothes. (laughs)
[00:02:44.110]It's kind of exactly who I am now, right?
[00:02:47.695]And I was either gonna major in oboe performance
[00:02:50.790]or engineering, that was what I was gonna major in.
[00:02:53.490]And I had a high school physics teacher
[00:02:55.770]and she started talking to me about engineering,
[00:02:58.340]I'd never heard of this, my dad said,
[00:02:59.640]why do you want to drive a train?
[00:03:00.850]I mean, we had no context of it.
[00:03:03.120]And she started talking to me about it
[00:03:05.180]and it was, I went to an engineering camp at Iowa State
[00:03:08.270]and I kinda liked it.
[00:03:09.400]And it was at the time where I just picked a major
[00:03:12.490]and it was bioengineering or biological systems engineering.
[00:03:15.680]And I came here for four years
[00:03:17.850]and then stayed for my master's.
[00:03:19.170]And I just loved this place
[00:03:20.400]and I couldn't believe the opportunities
[00:03:22.724]that UNL had given me.
[00:03:24.310]Like, this was beyond my wildest dreams
[00:03:26.420]or anything that had ever happened to me as a child.
[00:03:28.790]And I had a wonderful childhood,
[00:03:29.790]it's just I couldn't imagine this.
[00:03:31.870]And so when I had the opportunity to come back
[00:03:33.930]and be a faculty member at a place that
[00:03:35.490]changed my life, and that I felt such loyalty to,
[00:03:38.420]I just, how could I say no to that?
[00:03:40.250]And I remember pinching myself
[00:03:41.920]for the first few days that I was a faculty member,
[00:03:43.870]here, at the place that I love.
[00:03:46.850]And I remember after the first couple weeks
[00:03:49.420]of being a faculty member, my dad called
[00:03:50.670]and he goes, how does it feel to finally
[00:03:52.210]not be learning anymore?
[00:03:53.100]I go, oh my gosh! (laughs)
[00:03:54.360]I've learned more as a faculty member
[00:03:55.420]than I ever learned as a student.
[00:03:58.540]But that's why I love it,
[00:03:59.590]is that you get paid to learn.
[00:04:01.400]And so yeah, no, I wouldn't dream of being anywhere else.
[00:04:04.160]This place did everything for me,
[00:04:05.630]it changed my life.
[00:04:07.434]Next, lab work.
[00:04:08.960]A deep dive into Dr. Pannier's research.
[00:04:14.960]So talk a little bit about
[00:04:15.957]what the goals are of your research, to start.
[00:04:19.862]So gene delivery is the transfer of genes
[00:04:21.720]into a cell typically for a therapeutic
[00:04:23.870]or for potentially a diagnostic purpose.
[00:04:26.110]And there's many different ways to get DNA
[00:04:28.930]or genes into cells.
[00:04:30.630]Viruses are very effective at it
[00:04:32.320]and have been evolved over billions of years to do that.
[00:04:35.680]And actually, we now have gene therapy products
[00:04:37.920]on the market that use viral vectors, is what we call them,
[00:04:40.300]to deliver genes inside cells.
[00:04:41.930]But for some applications, viral vectors
[00:04:43.740]don't work as well, they have some safety concerns,
[00:04:46.570]scale out concerns, toxicity, immune response concerns.
[00:04:49.530]So we work in the general area called
[00:04:51.230]non-viral gene delivery.
[00:04:52.500]Which means we use materials to kind of mimic
[00:04:54.700]a virus to deliver genes inside of cells.
[00:04:57.830]And non-viral is safer and more tunable
[00:05:01.350]than viral delivery, but it suffers from inefficiency.
[00:05:03.900]And so a major focus of my lab
[00:05:05.820]is trying to increase the efficiency
[00:05:07.840]of non-viral gene delivery.
[00:05:09.450]Now, a lot of wonderful scientists in the world
[00:05:12.110]focus on engineering those materials
[00:05:14.350]that are used to shuttle those genes inside of cells,
[00:05:17.170]and we do some of that work, which I can talk about,
[00:05:20.030]but a lot of my lab, we focus on what we call
[00:05:22.060]priming the cells.
[00:05:23.230]So rather than worrying about this shuttle
[00:05:25.210]we're worrying about what's gonna receive the genes.
[00:05:28.100]And so we do things to try to make that cell
[00:05:30.980]more receptive to receiving DNA.
[00:05:33.880]And so we do that with chemical priming
[00:05:35.400]which means basically giving drugs to the cells
[00:05:37.410]to change their status,
[00:05:38.900]and we really pioneered that in the world,
[00:05:41.800]as well as physical priming
[00:05:43.510]which is we can change the surface that the cells
[00:05:45.850]are sitting on if it's in a culture dish.
[00:05:47.700]And just, for some reason, cells,
[00:05:50.030]it matters to them what carpet they're on
[00:05:51.780]or what flooring they're on
[00:05:53.220]and so we can do that as well.
[00:05:55.020]And so what I'm proud about in our lab
[00:05:57.660]is that we also always have one foot
[00:05:59.480]in basic science, and one foot in application.
[00:06:01.910]So we wanna understand this on one hand
[00:06:04.420]but then we wanna try to apply it.
[00:06:05.830]And so some of our applications for this
[00:06:08.080]is delivering genes to adult stem cells
[00:06:11.310]that aren't natively found in your body,
[00:06:12.970]that are used for repair, regeneration,
[00:06:15.300]genetically modify them in a way to make them a therapy.
[00:06:18.536]They become the therapy.
[00:06:20.720]And so we've recently started looking into
[00:06:23.210]Alzheimer's Disease, osteoarthritis.
[00:06:26.020]And then separately we also,
[00:06:28.230]I talk about everyone else engineering the materials,
[00:06:30.250]we do that as well.
[00:06:31.280]And so we really are focusing on engineering
[00:06:33.070]materials for oral DNA delivery.
[00:06:34.930]That's sort of a part of the field
[00:06:38.590]that is not as well-studied.
[00:06:40.180]And so we have developed the first system
[00:06:42.460]that uses zein, a protein from corn,
[00:06:44.730]and chitosan, a polysaccharide from shrimp,
[00:06:47.060]so it is shrimp and grits.
[00:06:49.090]Native materials, yeah.
[00:06:50.756]To deliver DNA into the intestinal space.
[00:06:53.760]And we're really interested in that
[00:06:55.060]for DNA vaccines and also treating local bowel,
[00:07:00.990]So what are some of the challenges
[00:07:03.200]that researchers in this field face
[00:07:06.010]that you're working on in your lab?
[00:07:07.700]You've got a huge lab that's very, very successful,
[00:07:10.120]pioneering things in this field,
[00:07:12.510]and nationally and internationally recognized.
[00:07:15.600]So what are some of the kind of challenges
[00:07:18.050]that you face in this research?
[00:07:20.212]There's only three challenges in gene therapy.
[00:07:22.410]And that's just delivery, delivery, and delivery.
[00:07:25.411]So that's our challenge.
[00:07:27.910]You know, turns out nature has evolved many ways
[00:07:31.740]for us to not put DNA into a cell
[00:07:33.730]that should not be there.
[00:07:34.730]And so we are, that is our challenge,
[00:07:37.380]is how do we make sure that we can efficiently
[00:07:39.660]get it into the right cells, the right number of cells,
[00:07:42.840]have that gene expressed or basically read
[00:07:45.030]at the right level.
[00:07:46.510]So that is a big challenge in our field.
[00:07:49.240]Talk a little bit about the support
[00:07:50.777]for your research.
[00:07:51.610]Sure, well, so I have to give a shout-out
[00:07:54.010]that the American Heart Association
[00:07:55.260]was the first grant that I ever got,
[00:07:56.660]a scientist development grant,
[00:07:57.493]and that started a lot of this priming work
[00:07:59.560]of using drugs to try to increase cell responsiveness.
[00:08:03.270]We're currently funded by NSF,
[00:08:05.440]the last year of my career grant.
[00:08:07.720]And we're funded by the NIH,
[00:08:11.040]Director's New Innovator Award.
[00:08:12.850]And we're also funded by the USDA
[00:08:15.070]for some of our tissue engineering work.
[00:08:16.480]So we actually have a whole other project
[00:08:18.080]on tissue engineering pig embryos,
[00:08:20.010]not to mimic human embryos or anything,
[00:08:21.690]it's actually to grow better pigs for more bacon,
[00:08:24.530]that's my bacon project.
[00:08:26.030]So, and that's funded by the USDA.
[00:08:27.320]So we actually have a large portfolio of funding,
[00:08:30.610]and then we also have industry funding in the lab,
[00:08:32.500]so we actually run contracts with industry.
[00:08:34.480]And part of what you mentioned
[00:08:35.660]was the NIH New Innovator Award that you received here
[00:08:39.370]just this past year.
[00:08:42.336]It's a big deal.
[00:08:43.169]It is, it is a big deal.
[00:08:44.002]It's a really big deal.
[00:08:45.668]So talk a little bit about that.
[00:08:46.501]What is that program?
[00:08:48.500]So that's a different type of grant mechanism
[00:08:50.980]from the National Institutes of Health
[00:08:52.590]that funds basically a person
[00:08:54.210]and not necessarily a project.
[00:08:55.960]So it's a different way to write a grant proposal,
[00:08:58.290]you don't write, I'm gonna do X, Y, and Z.
[00:09:00.830]You actually just kinda write, here's who I am
[00:09:03.190]and everything I'm thinking about.
[00:09:05.570]And the money is given as a single shot
[00:09:08.100]for five years with no strings attached,
[00:09:10.670]and this says go out and do your innovative stuff.
[00:09:14.220]I am the first Nebraskan to ever win that award
[00:09:16.620]or earn that award.
[00:09:17.680]I am the first person in the university system.
[00:09:20.230]And so it's really exciting.
[00:09:21.770]It also kind of connects you to all these other innovators
[00:09:24.440]across the country, so there's a yearly workshop
[00:09:28.410]Networking in that light.
[00:09:30.460]So it was quite an honor.
[00:09:33.970]Now it's time for a pop quiz,
[00:09:36.120]random questions, life hacks, and wisdom for all of us.
[00:09:41.910]So how do you moderate
[00:09:43.970]the mentoring with graduate students,
[00:09:46.810]and a large number of graduate students,
[00:09:48.600]and work that you do, the teaching work
[00:09:50.610]you do at the university,
[00:09:53.570]and you have a family and life.
[00:09:58.930]How do you moderate all of that?
[00:10:00.880]Oh, well, that's a question I get asked a lot
[00:10:03.030]and I think there is no one perfect answer.
[00:10:05.940]I'm very organized.
[00:10:08.030]And I am, I look not organized compared to my husband,
[00:10:11.270]so we're both engineers, we're both type A.
[00:10:15.620]And that wasn't a question about my family
[00:10:19.460]but it is a question about my family,
[00:10:20.890]because my family, my children,
[00:10:22.750]have only grown up knowing, well, that's a lab thing.
[00:10:25.269](laughs) Or we gotta be at the lab,
[00:10:26.600]or the lab's coming over, the lab's doing this.
[00:10:28.330]But I have lots of lists, I have a whole book of lists
[00:10:30.981]and lists, my book of lists is never far away.
[00:10:33.440]And my students would all attest that
[00:10:34.650]if I don't have my book of lists
[00:10:35.640]then there's nothing gonna get happening that day.
[00:10:38.597]I'm very organized,
[00:10:39.890]and I have a lot of good people around me.
[00:10:42.900]So I have the best graduate students in the world,
[00:10:45.410]I'll put 'em against anyone's.
[00:10:47.090]What advice would you give
[00:10:48.440]to an incoming freshman in the class of 2023?
[00:10:51.470]I have a few pieces of advice.
[00:10:53.480]One is you do wanna get involved.
[00:10:57.800]There are so many opportunities at UNL,
[00:10:59.691]you have to do it very cautiously and not overdo it,
[00:11:02.730]but try to do something that you've never done before,
[00:11:04.630]and I think that's part of college.
[00:11:07.510]More importantly is you have to learn
[00:11:09.270]how to manage your time, and have to do it really quickly.
[00:11:12.680]I think the great thing about UNL is
[00:11:14.310]we have many resources at the department level
[00:11:16.440]to the university level,
[00:11:17.630]and you need to make use of those.
[00:11:18.950]Because time's gonna be totally different to you
[00:11:21.320]than it's ever been before.
[00:11:23.380]You need to seek out and talk to professors
[00:11:25.780]especially if you feel that you are not
[00:11:28.120]getting the material or the grade's not
[00:11:29.783]what you think it should be.
[00:11:31.260]We are just people,
[00:11:32.600]and you need to talk to us.
[00:11:33.930]And if you need til the week of finals week
[00:11:35.710]to talk to us, that does not work.
[00:11:38.720]And then, the advice that people don't wanna give,
[00:11:41.740]but it's true, is that grades do matter.
[00:11:44.410]But there is the support system to help you.
[00:11:47.575]And finally, graduation day.
[00:11:49.690]Final thoughts from Angie Pannier.
[00:11:52.410]If you were to dream what you hope
[00:11:55.160]your research will do, the research in this area
[00:11:59.070]that you're working in and your students (mumbles)
[00:12:02.520]What's your dream?
[00:12:04.093]Well, I think the dream of all engineers,
[00:12:07.200]especially, is that we want a product on the market.
[00:12:09.570]We want something that is changing people's lives,
[00:12:12.520]that they don't know that all that work into it,
[00:12:15.640]but that it somehow affects and changes their lives.
[00:12:18.400]And I think that's a wonderful goal
[00:12:20.420]and we all have it, and then we have to obviously
[00:12:22.350]strive for it.
[00:12:24.280]But if I'm honest, my goal is that my graduate students
[00:12:27.660]and my undergraduate students go out and change the world.
[00:12:33.310]That's it for Faculty 101.
[00:12:35.020]Thanks to Chancellor Green and Dr. Pannier for their help.
[00:12:38.640]This is the final episode for this season of the podcast,
[00:12:41.490]but we'll be back in the fall
[00:12:42.820]with more stories of UNL faculty.
[00:12:47.750]Faculty 101 is produced by the
[00:12:49.680]University of Nebraska Lincoln.
[00:12:55.450]I don't, I guess I don't know what free time is
[00:12:57.460]because I have an eight-year-old and a 12-year-old
[00:12:59.300]that are in a lot of activities, so my free time
[00:13:01.420]is I am an Uber driver for children around town.
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