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Moving science forward

Shondra Pruett-Miller, PhD

Shondra Pruett-Miller, PhD, directs the Center for Advanced Genome Engineering.

Shondra Pruett-Miller, PhD, describes herself as a “tinkerer.” “I love taking technologies and making them more robust,” she said.

At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Pruett-Miller directs the Center for Advanced Genome Engineering, which features complicated technology that she refers to as “molecular scissors.” Her team can take a genome, make “cuts” and then allow the cells’ natural pathways to repair those lesions. This process allows researchers to gain a better understanding of specific mutations, which will lead to a better understanding of basic science and ultimately lead to more effective treatments.

She said one of the most exciting things about working in the field of biotechnology is that her work has the potential to help millions of people. “It’s powerful to think that decades after you do something it can still be making an impact,” she said.

Pruett-Miller’s team members are able to provide their expertise to faculty across the hospital, speeding up science and creating new opportunities for discovery.

She explains that University of California biochemist Jennifer Doudna, PhD, and French researcher Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD (a former St. Jude postdoctoral fellow), are two of her heroes, and she praises the work they have done to develop the CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

“CRISPR/Cas9 is really a game-changing technology,” Pruett-Miller said. “It has allowed us to do things that are having and will continue to have a major impact on the future of science and medicine. Since this discovery, the field has rapidly advanced, and we are already seeing the first clinical trials based on CRISPR/Cas9 discoveries.”

When asked what advice she would give to young girls looking to have a career in science, Pruett-Miller identifies perseverance as a key quality. “Some days everything you try fails,” she said. “It can be hard to get back up and keep trying, but you can’t get discouraged when things don’t work out. If you’re working hard and asking good questions, you will learn something and move science forward.”

She also noted that girls should be confident in themselves and make sure their voices are heard. “I go to meetings where I am the only female in the room, and it can be a struggle to not let that affect you,” Pruett-Miller said. “I am thankful, though, that my departmental chair, J. Paul Taylor, MD, PhD, has recruited eight amazing faculty—four of whom happen to be women.

“I would tell young women that they need to speak up when they have something to say,” she said. “Be the change that you want to see in the world, even though it may be scary. Don’t let yourself be intimidated.”

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