Meet Dr. Meher Antia, ITHS Research Navigator
The ITHS Research Navigator, Dr. Meher Antia, is a key point of contact for anyone conducting clinical or translational research in the five-state WWAMI region. Dr. Antia works closely with researchers and their teams to support acceleration of their research projects. We recently caught up with Dr. Antia to learn more about her role at ITHS.
Tell us about your work as the Research Navigator at ITHS.
The point of having a role like mine is to have somebody who is a central point of contact for anyone in the community who is thinking about doing translational research. There are obviously a lot of people who know exactly what they need and what they want to do, and can therefore look for and go straight to that resource. But there are also people who may not be that clear on how to navigate this translational space. Or how to get from the point of having an idea that they’re developing in the lab to actually implementing it in clinical trials or actually getting it to patients to make a difference.
A big part of the role is to be responsive to what researchers and their teams need. Another big part of it is to be a bit more proactive in raising awareness of what ITHS can do to support them.
Are people generally aware of ITHS?
Not as aware as I would like. I think part of it is because, historically, ITHS used to be quite de-centralized. Each of the services ran independently. People might know that they can go to ITHS for biomedical informatics, but they may not know that it’s part of a broader organization and there might be other things we can help them with.
What else are you hoping to accomplish over the next year?
Continue doing more partnership-building with different departments and centers. A big one has been building a relationship with Engineering. ITHS has not typically worked with Engineering, and there is a lot of activity going on around bringing engineering innovation into medicine. We’ve started working together with them much more closely on various initiatives. We want to continue reaching out to departments where, historically, we haven’t necessarily had a lot of interaction.
We’ll also continue to build the concept of the ITHS Accelerator; creating a single place to go to if you’re a researcher or an investigator who wants to run a clinical trial. Putting together a clinical trials accelerator committee is going to be a big thing in the next year. We’re also making sure that we get an understanding of where the gaps are in what people want, and that we do something that actually fills the gaps.
What kinds of questions and requests do you receive?
There are some people who come to me with very specific questions that I just easily answer.
What I like most is the ones that are a lot broader in scope. Someone comes to me and they want help with a number of different things. For example, they’ve got a clinical trial that they’re planning or an application that they’re writing for a clinical trial. And they want input from a cardiologist. But they also need biostats. They may need help with understanding the regulatory pathway if they’re commercializing their product.
Those are the most interesting projects to work on, when I’m trying to pull together a number of different resources and experts to come up with an actionable plan that an investigator can work on to further their project. And that’s where you really see you’re making a difference and projects move forward.
Before ITHS, you worked at the Wellcome Trust in London. What was your role there?
The Wellcome Trust is a major foundation in the biomedical space. I worked with some of the basic research programs, managing some of their large initiatives. Initially, in things like structural genomics, equipment, and biomedical resources, as well as a number of other strategic initiatives around super resolution microscopy.
Then I worked for a couple years in their Innovations division, which funded translational research. I managed several projects in that space: drug discovery, vaccines, medical devices. I ran two major medical engineering initiatives that they had, in partnership with various organizations.
Was that your first experience in translational science?
Yes, it probably was. My research background is very much in basic science. I did my Ph.D. here at the University of Washington in the bioengineering department. My Ph.D. was looking at how extracellular matrix proteins interacted with cells and biomaterial surfaces. I suppose it always had that long-term translational view, but I would call it basic research.
For my postdoc, I wanted to be involved in a project that focused on global health. I worked in the malaria lab, building microfluidic devices that looked at how malaria-infected red blood cells would interact with cells that you find in the body. I made model capillaries and flowed infected red blood cells through them and looked at how they interact with human cells.
It’s a disease which disproportionately affects people in poor countries. I grew up in India, so I have a huge interest in health in developing countries. But it’s also just a really interesting disease, how it works. The malaria parasite is extremely clever in being able to avoid the body’s immune system. It’s biologically just really interesting.
Did growing up in India influence your career path?
Certainly with things like trying to be more aware of what happens in the rest of the world. I’ve also lived in the Middle East, Singapore, the UK, Paris. My parents now live in Canada, so they’ve immigrated.
The interest in science can come from anywhere. But I think wanting to do something that’s kind of globally impactful probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve lived in so many different places.
Did you have mentors who influenced you?
Yes, mentors are always critical. At key points when you’re making decisions about what to do, a lot depends on the people that influenced you and the people you might work with. Certainly my Ph.D. supervisor who was here at the UW, Viola Vogel; she’s not at the UW anymore. My postdoc supervisor, Pradip Rathod, was also a great mentor. And then Dr. Ted Bianco, who ran the Innovations division at Wellcome. I got from him this ability to look at things in a very big picture way and take a step back to see where gaps lie, what you can do to actually fill those gaps, and what you can do to actually influence this very difficult process of translation. He was a big influence.
What brought you to UW?
We were living in London, and it was a family decision to move to Seattle. Both my husband and I lived in Seattle before. I was looking for jobs that allowed me to work in this translational space because I find it really interesting. I saw this one, which seemed like a great fit. That’s how I ended up here.