Blake Kruger and the Impact of Science Communication
November 11, 2016
Combining his love for science with his drive to equalize socio-economic inequity, Blake Kruger is tackling a big problem. The Distinguished Communicator candidate is devising a therapy for Kaposi Sarcoma, which is a type of cancer that traditionally impacts minority populations. Set to graduate in May of 2017 with a chemistry major and minors in biological sciences and German, Kruger is putting his communication skills to the test to finish his research and communicate it to others to raise awareness about the disease and the therapy he is creating for it.
What is your favorite aspect of your own scientific research?
I have the opportunity to positively impact my local and global communities. Kaposi’s Sarcoma is an HIV-associated soft-tissue sarcoma, and as a result of its epidemiologic association with HIV, it disproportionately impacts African American males and members of the LGBTQ community. The fact that I am using my skills as a chemist and researcher to try and better the lives of these individuals is incredibly rewarding.
What would you say are some of the most useful, practical or important lessons about communicating science that you’ve learned as an undergraduate student?
The most practical lesson I have learned is that every audience must be catered to differently. For example, say that you go to a high school to speak about science and you discuss high-level physical chemistry concepts like plasmonic resonance of metallic nanoparticles. By speaking about this immensely complex topic using that language you are not truly communicating with your audience. Conversely, if you are defending your research at a conference and speak in more general terms about your work, the audience of prestigious judges will not take you seriously. Just by being cognizant of these differences, I have become much better equipped to communicate my scientific work.
We know you are currently working on your thesis. Building from the idea of different audiences, can you explain a bit about it in a few different ways?
First: how would you explain your thesis to someone at a professional conference in your field?
I am currently working on a Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS) therapy. The end goal is to use a core-shell-shell nanoparticle to deliver an siRNA to cancerous cells using a photo-cleavable retro-Diels Alder linker. This siRNA would, in theory, downregulate extracellular matrix metalloproteinase that is intimately involved with chemotherapeutic resistance, metastasis, and angiogenesis of KS cells. Future steps will include quantifying the siRNA released to cells by fluorescence microscopy, testing cytotoxicity, and publishing these results in a peer-reviewed journal to garner ethos for when future applications are written to approve cell-culture studies.
Second: how would you explain your thesis to a group of high school students?
I am trying to treat Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), a specific type of cancer, using tiny spheres that are smaller than the width of a hair follicle. These small spheres have a particular drug that is attached to them that targets a protein that makes blood vessels very quickly. When the cancer generates blood vessels very quickly the cancer becomes very dangerous, so by targeting this protein, called extra-cellular matrix metalloproteinase, we should be capable of better treating patients that are impacted by KS. What makes this therapy so interesting is that by using light, we can control when the drug is released to the cell.
What unexpected way has the Distinguished Communicator program affected you?
The Distinguished Communicator program has given me more than a broader, liberal-arts education; the DC program provided me with the tools to maintain my own professional network. What surprised me was how much this DC community network valued feedback and reflection, and these responses have vastly impacted the way I approach and grow from any difficulties I experience.
What is your fantasy job post-graduation?
After graduation I will be attending medical school, where I intend to pursue an M.D./M.P.H. in internal medicine, specializing in infectious diseases, and public health epidemiology. After earning these degrees, I hope to travel to clinics across the world to offer my services as a practicing physician with the Centers for Disease Control, Partners in Health, or other high-social-impact healthcare institutions.
What do you rock out to while working on your research?
My long-time friend, John Ryan, would have a field day with my answer to this question, but I’ve been rocking out to The Phoenix by Fall Out Boy; honorable mentions to Panic! At The Disco and ONE OK ROCK.
What advice do you have for other students potentially interested in getting into science communication?
I have two major pieces of advice: first, join the Distinguished Communicator Program. If you are interested in becoming a more effective communicator, better student, or more competitive applicant to graduate schools the Distinguished Communicator Program is Louisiana State University’s premier educational opportunity that you should take advantage of. Secondly, I would advise every student in the scientific community to seek feedback by finding a mentor who will challenge you.