Biotechnology and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Meet one research preceptor who is looking to accelerate COVID-19 therapeutics and discover what role he and his fellow preceptors play in shaping the MBP student experience.

For students in the Master of Biotechnology program (MBP) at Northwestern University, approximately 40% of their time will be devoted to research. It is one of the distinctive hallmarks of MBP.

A key component of the MBP research experience is the program's more than 80 research preceptors. These faculty members from across the University represent the breadth of interests MBP students possess, and the work done in their lab is often inspiring, and sometimes even life-changing. 

One example is Michael Jewett, the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology. Jewett has partnered with researchers at Cornell to develop a platform that could accelerate COVID-19 therapeutics, producing new antiviral drugs more than 10 times faster than current methods. 

As this recent Northwestern Engineering article explained:

After taking the molecular machinery out of bacteria, the researchers then use that machinery to make a product, such as therapeutics, in a safe, inexpensive, and rapid manner. The idea is akin to opening the hood of a car and removing the engine, which allows researchers to use the engine for different purposes, free from the constraints of the car.

Jewett is an active MBP preceptor and is currently advising one MBP student on different research.

Jewett and his fellow preceptors are critical to the MBP student experience. They guide students through their more than 1,000 hours of research performed on cutting-edge projects across Northwestern or at other local organizations affiliated with the program.

The work being done by Jewett is a perfect example of the role biotechnology can — and will — play in the elimination of the current pandemic.

Danielle Tullman-Ercek"Combatting the COVID-19 pandemic will take advances in many fronts, and biotechnology is required for some of the most-discussed urgent needs, including the need for faster, robust diagnostic tests, new treatments, and a vaccine," said MBP Director Danielle Tullman-Ercek. "Not only will those working in biotechnology be able to contribute to the development of these solutions, but they also will help ensure we can make enough products for everyone as quickly and safely as possible." 

That is why Tullman-Ercek believes now is the perfect time for students to consider MBP. Biotechnology will not only help society in the present, but it will also help shape the future.

"There are a number of ways our students and alumni can impact the world, but tackling this pandemic might be the grand challenge of their generation," she said. "I am excited to see what they do, both at Northwestern and beyond."