Five Minutes with John Crispino

The Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics talks about the partnership between MBP and the Lurie Cancer Center

John Crispino, PhD, holds a number of job titles.

He is the Robert I. Lurie, MD, and Lora S. Lurie Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University. He is also the associate director for Education and Training at Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center. Additionally, Crispino is a research preceptor in the Master of Science in Biotechnology program (MBP) at Northwestern Engineering.

His research laboratory examines the way blood cells normally develop and how their growth is altered in cancer.

Crispino took time to talk about his research, his work with MBP students and the partnership between MBP and the Lurie Cancer Center.

How do you describe your research to someone with no knowledge in it?

From the normal cell perspective, we are focused on understanding the mechanisms that lead to the formation of red blood cells and platelets from a common precursor cell named the hematopoietic stem cell. With respect to blood cancers, we perform research to better characterize the genetic alterations that promote leukemia and a related blood disease named primary myelofibrosis. One of our major efforts is to determine how having three copies of chromosome 21 leads to an increased risk of leukemia in children with Down syndrome. My laboratory is also working to develop new, less toxic therapies for leukemia.

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about biotech?

I think many people don’t realize the degree to which biotech companies partner with academia. My laboratory currently collaborates with two small biotechs to help them study the activity of their lead compounds on blood cell development and leukemia. Many of the faculty in the Lurie Cancer Center have similar agreements with biotech and pharma.

What do you hope students who do research with you learn from the experience?

My goal is to teach MBP students the scientific method and the practical skills that will enable them to advance their careers. In my laboratory, MBP students work side by side with PhD students, post-doctoral and clinical fellows, and research faculty to perform in-depth studies of blood cell development. They learn state-of-the-art methods including CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), next-generation sequencing and flow cytometry. I want students to graduate from the program with an appreciation for cancer biology and a desire to make a difference in the world.

How important do you think it is for students to have a research background as they enter the workforce after MBP?

Hands-on research training is an absolutely essential component of the MBP program. Students learn how to formulate hypotheses, design and conduct experiments, and interpret results. These skills are essential for scientists at any level in any industry.   

How has MBP partnered with the Lurie Cancer Center?

The Lurie Cancer Center (LCC) is a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center that unites physicians and researchers in the battle to overcome cancer. The LCC has partnered with the program from its inception to enable MBP students to perform cutting-edge research in cancer biology. Students can participate in basic, translational or clinical research projects in more than a dozen laboratories in Evanston or Chicago. The development of new anti-cancer agents is a special area of interest in the LCC, so there are ample opportunities for MBP students to work in this area.   

What advice would you give to a prospective student considering MBP?

Northwestern University provides a first-rate education coupled with cutting-edge research. Students should come prepared to excel in both the classroom and the laboratory. Before matriculating, students may wish to familiarize themselves with the research on campus so they are well positioned to find a suitable lab for their research training.