Fanny Chapelin, Ph.D., joined the F. Joseph Halcomb III, M.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering this fall as research assistant professor. She just completed her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at University of California at San Diego. To get to know Dr. Chapelin better, we present you a short interview with her on her research interests and her life’s mission.
We are so glad to have you at UK. To help colleagues and students to learn more about you and your research, can you tell us something about yourself, your research interests and expertise?
My research has been centered on non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of immune cell migration to foci of inflammation in different pathologies such as transplant rejection, autoimmune diseases and cancer. I am particularly interested in cell therapy for cancer, including chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, as well as dendritic cell vaccines. The broad aim of the lab is to develop molecular imaging methods to visualize cell therapy tissue distribution, survival and efficacy, and help clinical translation of therapeutic cells by determination of best treatment dosing, schedule and delivery route.
Would you give some brief highlights of the most exciting part of your research work? What impact would you like to make in terms of helping people and improving quality of life?
Someone once told me that revolution makes life permanently different. These words struck me then and continue to drive everything I do. To me, research needs to be revolutionary. It should have a practical, essential impact in people’s lives. In my lab, I hope to push the frontiers of medical science, contribute to addressing the cell therapy safety, distribution and efficacy challenges and create potential tangible outcomes that can be translated from bench to bedside.
Looking ahead, what challenges do you see in realizing the impact you would like to make through your innovative research?
Impactful research takes tremendous effort and time. Unfortunately, there is no going around that. I nonetheless remain hopeful. Preclinical projects I worked on back in 2013 and 2017 are now being translated to the clinic, and this is the biggest reward. I hope that initial preclinical contributions at UK will lead to multi-disciplinary collaborations with the College of Medicine and clinical translation here in Kentucky.
You have been awarded with numerous awards and honors. Can you tell us more about the awards?
Among the awards for my achievements in research, there are two of which I’m most proud, but also most humbled. The first one was a fellowship from France that allowed me to pursue my masters’ thesis at Stanford. That was a dream come true—a chance to study abroad and in one of the best universities in the world. The work conducted there resulted in conference presentations, co-authorships and more awards, amongst which, France’s 2013 “best engineer of the year for science.” I was the youngest and only woman recipient, selected from among thousands of engineers. This award opened the path to graduate school in the U.S. and my academic career in general. I am eternally grateful.
How would you like to help students who are interested in biomedical engineering advance their learning and their career?
Contributing to students’ intellectual growth has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. My foremost goal of teaching is for students to develop independent learning and research skills for their professional career, as well as to convey my enthusiasm about research so that some may be encouraged to follow the same path. While striving to be a role model, I am determined to advocate for diversity and remain accessible to counsel students on their career path.
Is there any advice you would give to students or postdocs that you wish someone had given you when you were a student or postdoc?
I would be happy to share many stories about overcoming obstacles over coffee. Summarized simply, life has taught me that nothing is impossible and one should not listen to friends, advisors or mentors who believe otherwise. If you work hard, are motivated and surround yourself with people that believe in you, you can achieve anything. If you don’t try, surely, nothing will come of it.
What do you like to do outside your work? Any hobbies or leisure interests?
I’m a very creative person, I do a lot of stitching, painting, illustrating. I’m also very outdoorsy. I love hiking, skiing or just taking a walk outside at night to clear my thoughts.