June 9, 2015

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Beyond Tech

Article

On the Job

Real-world Careers in the Life Sciences

By Heather Stewart and Peri Kinder

June 9, 2015


Helping young students see the life sciences as a viable—if not exciting—career path is a big focus for educators and tech industry leaders. Here, we profile two working scientists, both of whom have made impactful contributions to their fields—one working for private industry and the other within the halls of academia. Their stories help illuminate the varied paths and possibilities within the sciences.

Brian Caplin
Chief Science Officer, Fluoresentric, Inc.

Brian Caplin, Ph.D., stumbled into scientific research while on his way to medical school and a career as an ophthalmologist. In the summer between his junior and senior year at Wabash College, he worked in his professor’s lab, researching the genetics of an algae.

“[Initially,]  that was really not interesting to me at all, but I needed to do it to have something to stand out [on my application for medical school],” says Caplin. “I spent the summer working on this, and I was totally, totally 100 percent hooked on the science. It was so cool. It was creating new knowledge that no one had ever seen or experienced before. Well, medical school disappeared from my agenda.”

Caplin studied molecular genetics at Ohio State University, learning cutting-edge techniques in biotechnology. After that, he devoted several years to working for laboratories researching cancer.  “It was really cool,” he says. “We were doing stuff that … resulted in some pretty good targets for cancer therapeutics.”

A constant learner, Caplin became interested in a new technology called real-time PCR, a technique that is used to amplify a targeted DNA molecule so it can be detected and/or quantified. Real-time PCR is most often used for disease diagnostics. Caplin moved to Utah and, he says, knocked on the door of Idaho Technology—a frontrunner in the field of PCR, now known as BioFire Diagnostics—until it offered him a job.

Working at Idaho Technology enabled Caplin to learn about and contribute to the latest techniques. While there, he patented both a novel method for quantitative PCR and a novel probe-based genotyping chemistry.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to play in the latest, greatest science while the latest, greatest science was in the process of developing,” he says. “From a scientist’s perspective, there’s nothing more pleasurable; expanding the knowledge beyond the newest, latest [and] greatest is really fun, enjoyable, beneficial, but finding the new science that’s going to take over the world—like nanotechnology—before it’s happened is probably what drives me.”

Caplin left Idaho Technologies in 2003 and founded Fluoresentric, Inc., a company that initially developed real-time PCR assays for companies, organizations and government across the globe. Fluoresentric recently launched a new technique it calls Xtreme Chain Reaction (XCR), which the company says delivers results 10 times faster than standard real-time PCR assays and also costs less than current methods.

Caplin says XCR will soon replace PCR throughout the industry. “It’s operated with really simplified methods to handle the sample, to process the sample and to run the sample,” he says, making it ideal for several settings, including doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, pharmacies and field hospitals, among many others.

Science has proved a tremendously fulfilling career path, says Caplin, particularly as he has been able to combine his love of scientific research with the exhilaration of entrepreneurship. “As an entrepreneur, I’m always trying to keep my mind on the scientific merits of doing some thing, some task that needs to be accomplished,” he says, adding that scientists who work in the business world must “deliver something that people rely on” that works and “does what they want—whether they’re making a cell phone call or finding out that [their child] has cystic fibrosis.”

He says that science is a rewarding calling, especially for those who are naturally inquisitive. And, he says, “It doesn’t matter whether you want to be a medical doctor, a scientist or a pharmacist or a chemist, a physicist, biologist—they’re all equal sciences. If you’re inquisitive at all, you should look into a career like that, because you never know where you’re going to find the next great discovery—because you see the world differently than everybody else, and that’s what it takes to make discoveries.”

Steve White, Ph.D.
Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Utah

In an alternate universe, Dr. Steve White owns and operates a pharmacy in the small town of Salmon, Idaho. If it weren’t for an invitation from his master’s mentor to attend a pharmacology conference years ago, White might still be filling prescriptions for Salmon’s residents, and his decades-long career in anticonvulsant drug therapy discovery would never have happened.

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