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Journey to the Jude: Besian Sejdiu, Structural Biology, Kosovo

June 21, 2023

The Journey to the Jude series highlights the journeys of employees from their homelands to working at St. Jude.

Besian Sejdiu, PhD, Structural Biology, is the first St. Jude employee from Kosovo.

Besian Sejdiu, PhD, Structural Biology, is the first St. Jude employee from Kosovo.

By Sasha Steinberg

During the Kosovo War of the late 1990s, Besian Sejdiu and his family left their village near Runik in the small city of Skenderaj and sought refuge in Germany. His family lived in a tent for seven months while their home was rebuilt after it burned in the conflict. Sejdiu, however, stood tall with the same compassionate spirit that he applies to his work today as the first St. Jude employee from Kosovo.

"I'm grateful to St. Jude for being interested in my journey," he says. "When I learned that I had been accepted at St. Jude, it was big news for my family. Their village shared in our joy too, and they are proud. I am happy to live in the United States; it is a country that I've always looked up to and truly love. Working for a respected institution has been a very positive development in my life."

Working with the best

Sejdiu came to St. Jude in December 2020 to work with renowned researcher M. Madan Babu, PhD, who the hospital recruited earlier that year to serve as Endowed Chair in Biological Data Science. Babu also serves in the Department of Structural Biology as director of the Center of Excellence for Data-Driven Discovery, one of three newly created centers of excellence supporting innovation in basic and translational research.

"When you are a young scientist, the person who guides you matters a lot. I was familiar with Dr. Babu's research while doing my PhD. He is a truly remarkable scientist," says Sejdiu, who earned his degree in computational biology from the University of Calgary in Canada. 

"When I reached out to Dr. Babu and learned he was going to start at St. Jude, I got excited to apply to work here. I'm happy and lucky to work under Dr. Babu's supervision and leadership because there are only a few scientists in the world who are at his level," Sejdiu says.

Conducting impactful research

As a senior bioinformatics analyst in the Babu lab, Sejdiu enjoys contributing to the fundamental laboratory-based research enterprise at St. Jude. Using leading-edge technologies and different data science approaches, Sejdiu and his fellow researchers are working to build support and provide evidence for biological questions that can advance diagnoses and treatments at St. Jude and beyond. 

"During the last few decades, there has been an explosion in the amount of data that has been built or developed during scientific research. This includes data on the cell level, genome level, structural data and many other types of data," he says. "So, the question is 'How can we integrate the data, and how can we make sense of all the data that is available?'"

In addition to using publicly available data, Sejdiu says the research group generates data through different types of methods, including molecular dynamics simulations and virtual screening.

"With molecular dynamics simulations, it's basically a computational microscope that allows us to use supercomputers to simulate the movement of atoms and entire systems—the dynamics of proteins and other molecules, their interactions and how they move," he says. "That allows us to get insights into important functional aspects of those proteins, which we would not be able to do using conventional experimental methods."

"Virtual screening allows us to use large chemical libraries, and we screen them on different protein targets," Sejdiu says. "This way, we can find new ligands and inhibitors and potentially discover new drugs by screening billions of compounds, which is completely inaccessible to any experimental method to date."

Enjoying a multicultural experience

Sejdiu is proud to serve an organization that is a locally, nationally and internationally respected driving force in research, pediatrics and employee recruitment. St. Jude again has earned a Glassdoor Employees' Choice Award and has been named to Glassdoor's 2023 Best Places to Work list.

"People in the community respect you because of your association with St. Jude, and it's also really nice to see how much they cherish St. Jude," Sejdiu says. "It's a nice feeling to know you are in an inclusive place where you are valued for the person you are, and your identity is recognized and accepted. When you work here, it is truly a multicultural experience."

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