Members of the College of Science Graduate Admissions and Student Services office visited the Biopharmaceutical Analysis Training Lab (BATL) at the Burlington Innovation campus. While visiting, they sat down with Dr. Jared Auclair, Director of BATL, and John de la Parra, a current Chemistry PhD candidate, to talk about the work and research done at in their lab.
BATL is a state-of-the-art facility, offering a unique hands-on training opportunity to the pharmaceutical industry in the form of affordable, practical, and comprehensive courses. It offers training in liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis and relevant data management, focusing upon advanced characterization of the structure of biotherapeutics.
BATL was established in 2014 as a facility to train local industry professionals on how to use mass spectrometers and analyze protein drugs. Dr. Auclair continues to train local industry on how to analyze biopharmaceuticals, and has trained employees from Shire, Pfizer, Amgen, and others. He has also used this model to offer courses to Northeastern undergraduate and graduate students throughout the year. These courses run 9am-4pm for a six-day intensive that reviews the basic protein mass spectrometry experiments that are conducted at BATL.
Dr. Auclair explained, “The facility also is an Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC) Life Science Information Forum Regulatory Harmonization Steering Committee Center of Excellence in Biotherapeutics. All of that basically means that we have international regulators from the Asia Pacific area come to the Burlington campus, and we train them on how to make sure they’re approving protein drugs so that they’re safe for consumption by people.” These trainings have also expanded to other organizations such as the International Council for Harmonization (ICH), thus extending the centers training reach across the globe, and BATL recently hosted a pilot training for ICH in October. Additionally, Dr. Auclair runs samples for industry and Northeastern faculty. He added, “I do dabble in my own research related to women’s health and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).”
John de la Parra, a current PhD Chemistry candidate at the College of Science, works alongside Dr. Auclair at the Biopharmaceutical Analysis Training Laboratory. We asked John about the research he is currently working on, and the benefits of being a part of the lab. John has been working on a project that is looking at female prevalent diseases in menstrual blood. He shared, “It’s a diagnostic platform that hasn’t been explored previously, and all that work has been done in this laboratory. In this quiet little laboratory, on this isolated little campus, we’ve been able to find really interesting molecules, proteins, and modifications on those proteins that are possible indications of disease in women, things that we didn’t even know previously existed.” Because of this, he said, they have made some “potentially groundbreaking discoveries.”
John also brings his background as an ethnobotanist to his research. He has undertaken a project looking at the metabolite and protein profiles of indigenous medicinal plants. “Out here,” he explained, “we have the ability to look at proteins and small molecules that might be in some interesting medicinal plants, things that have never been looked at before.”
John noted BATL’s isolation as a positive way to explore and think about things in different ways: “When you have a collection of excited students all working out here together, we kind of band together and we think about things more creatively.”
John has won awards for his research at the RISE awards for two years in a row. In 2016, John won the Excellence in Innovation Award for his poster on “Controlled Biosynthesis and Diversification of Plant-Derived Pharmaceuticals,” followed by the same award in 2017 for his poster on “Discovering Novel Biomarkers for Women’s Health: A Robust Platform for Disease Detection in the Menstrual Blood Proteome.” John explains the importance of BATL in completing his research, “Both of these rely on being able to parse apart very complicated samples, and BATL makes that possible. This is the only place I could do this.”
PhD Profile: John de la Parra