The Lattice (Official 3DHEALS Podcast)

Prof. Ali Khademhosseini - Academic Entrepreneur

September 29, 2021 3DHEALS Season 2021 Episode 21
The Lattice (Official 3DHEALS Podcast)
Prof. Ali Khademhosseini - Academic Entrepreneur
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of The Lattice podcast, we had the opportunity to chat with professor Ali Khademhosseini about his career, starting when he was a chemical engineering graduate student to becoming a full professor at Harvard, bicoastal move to UCLA, three-time entrepreneur, becoming an Amazon Fellow, to finally becoming the founder and director of the Terasaki Institute, a new educational research center that also wants to build young companies. While Ali has been incredibly productive in academia, his career trajectory is clearly towards academic entrepreneurship, an exciting concept to many scientists, especially in light of the pandemic and the rise of companies like Moderna. Given his success, I dug a little deeper into his secret sauce to achieve success. Fortunately, Ali was willing to share it with everyone as well as his evolving view on what is meaningful success to him and what he envisions his next achievement milestone. Since I knew Ali from his many works on biomaterials and 3D printing, we also discussed his vision for the field.  


About our Guest for this episode: 


https://www.linkedin.com/in/alikmit/


Ali Khademhosseini is currently the CEO and Founding Director at the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation. Previously, he was a Professor of Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering and Radiology at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). He joined UCLA as the Levi Knight Chair in November 2017 from Harvard University where he was Professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and faculty at the Harvard-MIT’s Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and as well as associate faculty at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. At Harvard University, he directed the Biomaterials Innovation Research Center (BIRC) a leading initiative in making engineered biomedical materials. Dr. Khademhosseini is an Associate Editor for ACS Nano. He served as the Research Highlights editor for Lab on a Chip. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), Biomaterials Science and Engineering (FBSE), Materials Research Society (MRS), NANOSMAT Society, and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is also the recipient of the Mustafa Prize ($500,000 prize) and is a member of the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering, Royal Society of Canada and Canadian Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Inventors. He is an author on >650 peer-reviewed journal articles, editorials and review papers, >70 book chapters/edited books and >40 patents/patent applications. He has been cited >74,000 times and has an H-index of 139. He has made seminal contributions to modifying hydrogels and developing novel biomaterial solutions for addressing pressing problems in healthcare. He has founded 2 companies, Obsidio Medical and Bioray. He received his Ph.D. in bioengineering from MIT (2005), and MASc (2001) and BASc (1999) degrees from University of Toronto both in chemical engineering.



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Jenny Chen:

Hey there. This is Jenny Chen. I'm the founder of 3d heels. Welcome to the lattice podcast, the official podcast for 3d heels. This is where you will find fun, but in depth conversations with technological game changers, creative minds, entrepreneurs, rule breakers, and more. Focusing on how we can use 3d technologies like 3d printing and bio printing to reinvent healthcare and even Life Sciences. This podcast will also include ama or ask me anything sessions, pass Instagram Live interviews with influencers and other direct engagements with our tribe. Hi, Allie Danilo, the CEO. Thanks for joining us everyone. I want to make a really quick intro of who we're talking to today is Professor alley. Kota Hassani. He is the Founding Director and CEO of the Terra Sacchi Institute for biomedical innovation. Previously, he has amazing track record in academia. He was just recently the professor of bioengineering chemical engineering, radiology or UCLA. He was he joined as a leaving Knight chair. And and before that he was at Harvard. He was professor there. And he's also associate professor at the Wyss Institute for biologically inspired engineering. So move moving all the way from east coast to the west coast. And, I mean, you have a really tremendous impressive CV, you know, I like these numbers that I found that you have more than 650 peer reviewed journal articles. More than 70 book chapters, edited books, and more than 40 patents. I mean, technically speaking, that could be 40 different companies. But you did actually founded previously two startups. And I know you're working on some another one, but we're not going to make that public at the moment. So yeah, that's, that's, uh, I guess the as brief as I can make it, but I think I don't really want to make it brief. Because, you know, there's a lot to talk about so that people can learn from your journey, and then maybe even find collaborators for whatever future projects you're working on. So welcome alley.

Unknown:

Yeah, thank you very much, Jenny, really appreciate it. Always awesome to see you. And it's really inspirational to see all that you do, you know, because I think it's pretty amazing that you get time to actually do everything that you're doing with 3d heels, and all the other initiatives that you're meeting.

Jenny Chen:

Thank you. Well, today is all about you. We want to know about your stories. I know you have a lot of them. So we'll just go chronologically. Um, you were trained as a chemical engineer, you know, initially. So it's really biomaterial material science probably was your first entry into the 3d printing world. But how did you encounter 3d printing? And what did you think about it at the moment?

Unknown:

Well, I think you know, that's a really good question. So. And that would even take a little bit further back, you know, I did my Master's in stem cell lab. And one of the things that I found really interesting was that as an engineer, I found that lots of biology is done in a way that's not really controlled. And cells are in addition, there's not nearly as much understanding of what they're doing. So I became really fascinated early on by trying to create more control over what the cells see in the in a tissue culture or in a 3d environment. And that's what got me excited about biomaterials and early on with microfabrication technologies to be able to control that micro environment. and subsequent to that, you know, when I started my own faculty position, I started getting more into some of this areas, and it's specifically one of the things that I use, there's a lot of microfabrication techniques to control gel structures and molding and light patterning and all that stuff. It wasn't until a few years after I started that, 3d bioprinting actually started. And early on, I was really lucky because one of the early companies organovo worked with us early on to really get a 3d printer into my lab. And that got us to work on in that area. And after that, I started getting more and more attached to it. I started realizing that actually, this whole 3d bioprinting which was actually going on few years before I got into it was a really exciting field and opportunity and And then we had some really great postdocs that actually came to the lab and really grew that area. We developed a lot of printers ourselves. And we had like, lots of really cool stuff come out of it. So, but it was really a progression from early on when I wanted to control cell microenvironment to really opportunistic things like working with organ oval, very early in their development.

Jenny Chen:

Yeah, awesome. I remember visiting your lab and your postdocs, and researchers were so excited to show me everything you guys are doing with 3d printing. I know we're gonna address what are some of the major applications that you are encountering 3d printing later, but but I just want to since we're on this topic, what do you what is your lab or your current research, use 3d printing for?

Unknown:

Yeah, so what we do right now in the lab is fairly diverse. We generally focus on a lot of personalization of our approaches, therapeutics and other types of work that we do. So one of the areas that we use a lot of 3d bioprinting is actually printing a tissues, cells and materials for either regenerative medicine applications are actually being able to make models of human tissues outside of the body, on what they call organs on a chip. A lot of work is done on that. But in addition to bio printing, we also do a lot of 3d printing of materials for making devices, electronics, or all kinds of other things. So you have full bio printing world, but also 3d printing to make better structures and better devices.

Jenny Chen:

Awesome. I promise I will read all your publications. One day, I will achieve that

Unknown:

you're a fast talker. So

Jenny Chen:

I wouldn't be surprised. I'm fascinated was when I went to your lab, you know, I saw those microfluidic chips that you guys are manufacturing in the lab. I mean, you you're you have a little mini factories in your lab, basically. Yeah,

Unknown:

that's one of the good things about some of these technologies is actually becomes it's now become so easily usable, that we can do these things in the lab, I suppose to have to go to a clean room, centralized facility, and that really allows everyone in the world to be able to have access to these technologies.

Jenny Chen:

Absolutely. Now let's continue on this chronological journey. You have to start as a student, and then you move on to your graduate degrees. And then somewhere, you're the hero of the story you meant imagine a guidance, a mentor of some sort, how did you find that mentor? And who are they?

Unknown:

Yeah, that's a really interesting question. Because I've always right to get really involved and really passionate about what I do at the time. So early on, when I was at high school, you know, I was really excited about particular things. But I wasn't really excited about science as much I was more interested in athletics and other types of high school II type things like I was really into even playing chess or other things. So when I, when I went to university, I started to understand more about why I'm doing a university why I'm actually doing science, I started making connections between different things that I learned that that became exciting for me. It wasn't until I went to a lab that I actually had my first scientific mentor. So of course, you know, as a growing up, your, your parents are always there for you. And so they're very influential. But in the lab, I started having scientific mentors, and some of my early professors in Toronto, very, very inspirational. And when I went to MIT, when I interacted with Bob Langer, who's really a historic figure, that was really a turning point, because I started to realize that, wow, you know, if a person can accomplish so much, then we should have no limits on ourselves. And you know, we shouldn't just say oh, this is the standard, this is the norm because you know him as one person that's accomplished an incredible amount. So and then you start picking up things from the mentor, not necessarily by them telling you but just by osmosis and observation. So how, how you set up goals, how you actually go through step by step to achieve them, how you surround yourself with people who can help you. You know, all of those things are very important that I feel that during my graduate school and early faculty, I actually picked up a lot of those skills.

Jenny Chen:

I can feel that you did You published, you know, 650 paper and growing that number. I mean, that's incredible amount of publications, I work that you have done. I mean, you're still very young professor, I would say probably one of the youngest ones. How did you get to do all these? How are you able? I mean, are you parallel processing?

Unknown:

Are you just incredibly efficient? What's the secret sauce, but really, the secret sauce is just working with a lot of good people, right? So and that's really the only thing about it, I try not to be a rate limiting step. And I try to take advantage of the opportunities that are around me, make sure that if there's an idea or a publication or a person that can that I can help develop, then I will actually spend time on that and, and I try not to have too many, what I would call like wasted time, for example, things that I know are not are just useless, I don't try to spend time on them, I try to kind of just quickly deviate and focus on something that I can do. And then the other thing is really focusing on finishing. You know, I tell I tell some of my folks, it's not necessarily how hard you work, because I know some people love to work hard. But working hard is one element of success, you have to work hard, and at the same time, be able to actually take that hard work and finish things. And finishing is really just as important as starting things. So I've been very focused on finishing projects and having a very clear vision right off the bat, what is it that finish looks like? Because especially in science, you can continue exploring new things. So being able to have the vision and the end goal in mind, I think is really important in being productive.

Jenny Chen:

Absolutely. I totally agree with that. Wow, I mean, I absolutely agree, I don't have anything to add to that, I would say, when you say about the endpoint, focusing on the endpoint is almost like focusing on the ultimate value of your project, right? Like, it's almost like a convergence in business, like, yeah, now I have finally converted my invention or technologies into something that the market accepts, and people can buy, and, and the value of that probably sometimes 10 100 fold, then just the process of scientific investigation, which was also valuable in itself. But this endpoint, definitely, that's a really good way of looking at all kinds of projects. In fact, I think I should use that myself sometimes to make sure that my end goal is is meeting my ultimate general picture of what really heals? Yeah, I would just

Unknown:

maybe just add a little bit more comments in there. You know, I think there is obviously a difference between productive productivity and impact, right. And that's something that I've had to kind of learn as a mature, right. So because you can be extremely productive, ie finished many different things, but not necessarily make a huge impact. Or you can just finish one thing and make incredible impact. So, so I've and that's something that again, I when I've been going through lots of different things, and it took a lot of different things for me to appreciate what real impact is. So for example, like, I really give a lot of credit to people. Not only like Bob Langer, but also the person from biontech, over sahid, who actually started that company biontech, and arguably helped save the world from COVID. Right? So So I think those are the kinds of things that have incredible impact. And you don't necessarily need to have published 1000 papers to get to that level. But definitely, if you learn to be productive, and to appreciate what impact is, and then try to do both, and I think that's really the ultimate. Yeah, I've been learning how to do that, to be honest.

Jenny Chen:

Yeah, well, saving the world. That's our goal, all of us make make a difference in the world. Now that you mentioned Bob Langer a couple of times, and he is very influential in the field. And also he kind of crosses the world of science and entrepreneurship and business. I mean, he's built a billion dollar company, you know, basically so and then I can see that you're kind of looking at him as a mentor. He's aspiring figure out how did you like Were you always an entrepreneur kind of person. And then and then you now like a more definitively want to get into the entrepreneur space.

Unknown:

So I would say, when I honestly, when I was going through early university, I just I didn't even know really what entrepreneurship was. I, I got exposed to it when I was a PhD student at MIT and seeing a lot of my classmates and a lot of my lab mates around me Toriel activity now. So it became part of my DNA at that point, but I still had not developed into the stage of my career that I really wanted to focus on it early on, I was too much into the really survival mode of being a young professor. And that required me to focus on the metrics of academic success, which is, you know, publish your papers and do all these other things that is required to be successful professor, but as you as you develop, and you move forward in your career, and you start saying, okay, you know, let's go beyond productivity to impact as the measure of success, then entrepreneurship starts actually meaning something that's more than a word. It's a, it's a measure of how you can actually change the world and how you can make an impact. So, so it's really been the past few years that I've started to embark on that journey. And I think that even even that process of embarking was a lot of education along the way. So my first few ideas and initiatives, I would say were much more of a niche areas, as opposed to things that are very broad and very applicable to a lot of different people. So I've actually learned to, to understand early on what is the measure of impact that I'm trying to go after. And if it's something that at this point in my life doesn't really justify a significant amount of time, then I tried to not focus on that project, even though it may be a startup or it may have some real world application. I think just my own interests are in making bigger impacts now so so that even the entrepreneurial aspect has been a kind of learning and developing over the past few years, and it's continues to do

Jenny Chen:

that. Absolutely. I mean, I'm me too. And I really enjoy the process as well. Now, you feel like you're Okay, first of all, let's just admit that you're extremely successful scientist, you've done it, you've done it a hundreds of times, we know how to do it, right. And you probably will end up with a Nobel Prize some point. I wouldn't be surprised. Bottom line. So

Unknown:

no, that's fine. Okay, thanks. Thank you.

Jenny Chen:

I look forward to the party invitation, just so you know. But now you're going to a totally different space, which could be scary, because you've never been there before. It's not like you went to business school. I didn't go into a business school, I have to figure out county and everything. But do you feel the scientific background actually kind of helped you in certain way to tackle current problems that you face as entrepreneur?

Unknown:

That's a really interesting question. I think definitely, if you know, a particular area, well, if you feel confidence in your own domain, then that brings you a certain level of understanding and being able to hold yourself in a meeting and a new room. And at the same time, you become enough confidence bit yourself that you start expressing things that you don't know, right? So if I don't know something about a particular aspect, and I'm not afraid to say, Hey, listen, I you know, I may know everything about the science of this, but I have no idea about this other terminology used about let's say, how startup is priced. So then I don't mind asking. And I think the other thing is that one of my one of the things that I've actually liked about this whole journey of mine is that every time I felt like I settled, or I understood something really well, I tried to shake things up. So like, I was at Harvard, and I was a full professor, I had a big lab, and I'm like, Okay, the next, you know, 30 years, do I want more of the same? Or do I want something totally different? And, you know, then I went to UCLA and the other side of the country and I'm like, okay, university is fine, but do I want to, you know, just confine myself to this. So then I pushed myself to go to a different experience with Amazon, which is a totally different.

Jenny Chen:

Right, so about that. I totally forgot about that part of your journey. How interesting. How did you get into that position?

Unknown:

So So I think, you know, I was at UCLA and I I started Getting this opportunity to lead at this new research organization. And I wanted, I had this vision that I actually wanted it to be something that is an innovation engine. So it actually generates science and tries to push it to the real world. And I knew I was going to have a leadership role, building an organization. So those were all really exciting challenges. But I, I figured out that I, while I'm a good professor, I really don't have the experience in the real world, real industry. And also understanding how to set a culture how to build an organization things that Amazon has done incredibly well. And they've been able to scale now to over a million people who work for them. So that's why I kind of I, you know, picked up the phone one day and I called some of my contacts or they say, listen, hey, I'd love to come and work there while I'm doing this transition. And it was really incredible experience because again, what you what is a measure of success in the as a professor is totally different from when you're working at a company like Amazon, and I think that opens up your eyes. And once your eyes are open, then you're you're like, Okay, I don't want to be confined by a particular measure of success, which, which, at the end of the day may not be as important as some other one.

Jenny Chen:

Okay, well, then the segue of that conversation is your current role as the CO Founding Director and CEO of Tara sacking Institute. And I think that's right after your Amazon experience, right? That's true, who made who inspire or motivate, or you just found this opportunity yourself, or has always been in the back of your head for a while? Well, it's, it's

Unknown:

interesting, I definitely wanted to have an opportunity to build something in my own vision. It's been something like whether when I was at Harvard, I really wanted to build a center that had the kind of ideas that I wanted to push it forward. But, you know, at the Institute, when I was at UCLA, I saw this opportunity, there's a foundation that has a significant endowment, they actually have multiple buildings, including laboratory spaces, but they're not really as effective as what they're kind of resources should demonstrate. So so when I, I met the family, and I basically pitched to them, I said, Listen, this is a really great opportunity, I would love to help in kind of shaping this opportunity to something impactful. And this is my vision, and I kind of laid out that I wanted to build something that would be translational and would have lots of different activities around it. So and I think that resonated with them. Because Dr. terasaki, who was the person who actually endowed is the two was an academic entrepreneur, who developed major, major achievements in transplantation science. So in some ways, was good continuations legacy to be the world's best place for academic entrepreneurs, and and at the same time to kind of shake things up and make them much more forward looking into what the future of the science would be.

Jenny Chen:

Yeah, no, I'm really happy for you. This will be your third kind of CO created company or institution. Maybe there will be more I know that. But again, it's a secret. So tell us about your work currently with terasaki? And what are your goals? I mean, this is good opportunity to also do some shout outs to see you know, are you guys looking for people, you know, talents? Or are you looking for partners?

Unknown:

Yeah, so definitely, we are trying to grow, we've had a couple of buildings here in Los Angeles, and we recently purchased our third building, which is a very big building, definitely need a lot of people to fill it. So and right now that building is being renovated about a year from now I would say we are kind of ready to unveil that building. And what the whole idea of it with it is to try to get people who are interested in making a real difference. And by real difference, I think definitely you want to have that academic rigor, be able to publish really high impact, kind of quality work, but at the same time, people who are interested in potentially spinning out companies with the work that they do, potentially really making real world products with it. And so that's kind of the phenotype of people that we're looking at people who really ambitious, driven, passionate about what they want to do. And, and I can tell tell from my own experience that when I was young, I really felt that I needed to have this stamp on my forehead of a major institution. For me to feel important about myself that Oh, I'm a MIT or Harvard or you know, things like that. But But as I kind of went forward and become more comfortable in my own skin, I realized that no, it's actually a meet, it's me doing the work, not necessarily the logo. So so that's why I think it's actually this place, even though it's new, it actually has a lot of opportunity for young people, because they can actually come and be at a place where they're given challenges. And they're, you know, they're expected to accomplish a lot of things. And for the good people, I think that's actually what you need to be able to have the resources, and the opportunity to really dive deep and come up with some really incredible things, which we're hoping to do here.

Jenny Chen:

So about this, these new buildings of the Terra se, rd lab space, I'm assuming these are mainly for conducting scientific research.

Unknown:

Yeah, so two of our buildings are lab facilities, and one of our buildings is more administrative building.

Jenny Chen:

So what's the motto of terasaki? I mean, say someone, I mean, individuals, I get it, maybe they want to be a postdoc there. Or just employee, but do you have you guys considered incubating other companies say, to also use your facility, and now have like equity, or something like that?

Unknown:

Yeah. So that's a really interesting question. So obviously, in our kind of mission of trying to become world's best place for academic entrepreneurs, we want to have the kind of perks and opportunities that's not there everywhere. So we are actually developing incubator program for companies that are kind of initially spun out from our own faculty, as well as faculty that are affiliated with us. So we will provide really an excellent opportunity for early stage companies to be located and co work with the Institute. And, and I think we're gonna only grow that we're going to not only provide the space but down the road, provide other resources, financial and otherwise to be able to get these companies after.

Jenny Chen:

Yeah, actually, Los Angeles was actually pretty good about technology startups, because they have tax incentives that their government is actually pretty friendly with biotech companies. By the way, once your incubator start getting picked up, I want to happy to also see if I can invest in them or having other investors invest in them. So

Unknown:

wonderful. Yeah, definitely. We always need good people.

Jenny Chen:

I have one question from the audience, I think is relevant. But I can understand it's pretty simple. But as I understand where it came from, when you're in the lab, as a researcher, but you have such a great idea, you thought could be a good commercial product. How do you go about to launch this product?

Unknown:

Yeah, so I would say the first thing is, you know, there's a lot of things that we think are great ideas, which actually, if you dive deep, you realize that maybe the opportunity is not as exciting as one might have thought, we have this kind of inherent view of having like, we put blinders on as researchers, right, because we go so deep into things that we don't often see the big picture. So I think the first thing I would try to do when I'm a researcher working on things is to really just step back and try to see if I'm actually doing something that's going to be relevant, and doing something that is differentiated enough, different enough from other things out there. You know, one of the measures I would say is that whatever you think is going to be a good product has to be 10 times better than what's already out there for people to actually use it. If it's just slightly better than you really don't have a chance. And then the other thing is how big really is this market because a lot of times, even if we think over doing something really nice, then and these are lessons I've learned myself, you know, if the market is just not big enough, you can do the whole thing. And then once you start trying to actually make it into real world, then the investors say, Okay, listen, this is not really going to be a good business. So we're not interested. So there's a lot of things that I think early scientists need to kind of just think about and learn. The best way, I think, is to think about these but definitely don't get bogged down by them. I think you know, just moving forward and making mistakes is better than being too timid and not trying things.

Jenny Chen:

Yeah. And also don't just have one idea, right? Have like 100 of them and then so that you don't get emotional attached to just one idea. And if that doesn't work held and that's the end of the story, have 100 ideas and really stress test your ideas, you know, do product market fit Trying to dig deeper into market research? Yeah, the hard work is definitely necessary. So we have a last couple of minutes, I promised that we're going to talk about applications of 3d printing. I think everybody wants to know more from a real professor, as opposed to me. So I'm Sally, why don't you tell us? What do you think are going to be the most important application with 3d printing in the future?

Unknown:

Well, I think there's going to be a few, you know, obviously, the medical applications are going to be very important, I think, you know, making tissues for all kinds of different applications I can see, for medical reasons. You know, as you know, we also have a program at the institute about making food products using 3d printing. So So being able to 3d print cells and other things for making meat or other types of products, I think, is also very interesting. You know, I think, really like 3d printing is going to become a lot more just like a standard tool in manufacturing. And I think as we do that, and the bio printing aspect is just a way of using that for biological sensitive applications, then it's just going to be, you know, something that's just as common as any other tool that's in manufacturing, I think, actually, what you and your organizations have done, it's actually been very important, because you have, first of all, exposed the field to broader audience, but also brought the community of the bio, printing folks together a lot of times as well, which is very important as well. So thank you to you, Jenny, for also making all of this happen and helping that

Jenny Chen:

vision. Thank you. It's my pleasure. And now we're at the stage that we want to help startups with fundraising, because that's going to be the biggest barrier next, for the next step. And as we the technology field as a whole grows, I believe the market size is going to grow, more and more applications will be starting to use weak minting whereas didn't before and new products won't happen won't be created until we have the next step. Next stage of technology. Well, I know professor, you're very busy, so I'm not gonna keep you here. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today and your questions if we have an address, so feel free to text us and then I'll forward to a professor and then we'll have some follow ups. So thank you again, and have a nice day.

Unknown:

Awesome. Thank you. Bye bye.

Jenny Chen:

Bye. Bye, everyone. That's it for this episode. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram asked me to heos and check out the links in the show notes. See you next time.