Inventive OHSU postdoc “traps” scientific creativity to solve problems

From a young age, Lulu Cambronne, Ph.D., has always been interested in trying new things. For example, as a young musician she enjoyed composing works that explored hybrids of classical and modern sounds. Today, as a scientist at OHSU’s Vollum Institute, Dr. Cambronne is still harnessing her creativity and using it to develop solutions to difficult scientific problems.

As a postdoc in Dr. Richard Goodman’s lab, one of Dr. Cambronne’s inspired ideas became tangible while studying cellular microRNAs, which are essential epigenetic regulators of gene expression. Humans have hundreds of microRNAs in each cell, each regulating thousands of specific targets. Sorting out the targets for a particular microRNA is a daunting challenge but necessary in order to understand how a specific microRNA functions in a normal physiological setting or misfunctions in disease.

Her solution, the RISC-trap, is a new and powerful lab technique to empirically identify specific microRNA targets in cells. The RISC-trap system utilizes a mutant microRNA-complex to “trap” an intermediary state that includes the targets of a specific microRNA but limits further processing. With the help of her mentor, Dr. Goodman, Dr. Cambronne realized that the RISC-trap was, in fact, a marketable solution.

Concerned that the free sharing of academic knowledge and protecting her work would be mutually exclusive, Dr. Cambronne worked with the Technology Transfer & Business Development (TTBD) office to learn about the patenting and licensing business. TTBD ushered her through issues of premature disclosure, confidentiality and potential IP partnerships.

TTBD filed the patent and then licensed RISC-trap in January 2013. A product based on the technology, MicroRNA target identification, is now available to the market. Dr. Cambronne is happy that because of this process more scientists have increased access to her creation.

“The most rewarding part for me was getting to discuss and share my work with both scientists and non-scientists whom I would never otherwise have interacted. From their feedback I got to see that my ideas might be helpful or valuable to others,” she said.

Lulu Cambronne, Ph.D., was born and raised in Montreal and received her Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School. She is currently a postdoc in Dr. Richard Goodman’s lab in the Vollum Institute. Her next career goal is to obtain an academic faculty position where she can mentor young scientists and direct a research team to continue her work investigating the molecular and cell biology of neurons. Outside of the lab, Dr. Cambronne enjoys spending time appreciating the Oregon landscape with her husband Eric Cambronne, a faculty member at OHSU, and their family.

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