In my previous blogs in leadership development, I intrdocued “Become a successful leader (1): Everyday Leadership“, “Become a successful leader (2): Self-Awareness“, “Become a successful leader (3): Know who I am, and what personality I have.“, “Become a successful leader 4: Be an inspiring leader, The Golden Circle Theory“. Here, I would like to discuss another key component, “communication” in leadership development.

Communication is an art of understanding

Communication is an art where we need to keep creating understanding to deliver the right message between the talker and the listener. The communication process includes encoding our thought/ideas into words and behaviors and decoding this information into meaning. Misunderstanding occurs when the listener decodes the words and behaviors into a different meaning. To avoid the misunderstanding, we need to know 7C’s (correctcompleteclearconsistentcredibleconcerned/connectedculture) and 1 V (Volume). Moreover, what we do not say in the conversation and how we say it is very important to achieve effective communication.

Information transmission

Communication is a process of information transmission. Talker/Writer express ideas and thoughts in words or behavior, which encodes the message by one brain. The audiences decode the message to collect the information; however, each audience’s brain might translate it into different information. Also, in the human mind, emotions usually come faster than thoughts. Therefore, if you are in the mood, do not say anything or reply to any email because your emotion might highly affect your communication. In other words, we should always communicate with others in an adult-to-adult way.

Curse of knowledge

Cognitive bias usually occurs when an individual in a group unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand the message. For example, when we learn something new, such as cancer biology, we start to talk with professional words. Even if we are talking to other people without a biological background, we forget to explain the information or switch to simple terms to transfer the information. This is what we call the curse of knowledge. Therefore, we should always assume that we are not talking to experts if we do not know the audience.

Unconscious Communication

Sometimes there is a hidden message in our verbal or non-verbal expression. For example, intonation is a way to express the hidden meaning within a sentence. If someone said that “I didn’t say you broke my equipment,” we could try to stress a different word in the sentence to see if there is any difference.

  • I didn’t say you broke my equipment
  • I didn’t say you broke my equipment
  • I didn’t say you broke my equipment
  • I didn’t say you broke my equipment
  • I didn’t say you broke my equipment
  • I didn’t say you broke my equipment
  • I didn’t say you broke my equipment

Another example is body language. It is an interesting topic that sometimes we might unconsciously express our emotions through body language. If you found out that someone stands with folded arms when talking, you could assume this person disagrees with what you said.

Communication is based on trust

To have an effective communication, trust is an important factor to connect individuals in a group. There are 5 elements to build up trust: consistency, openess, loyalty, competence, and integrity.

  • Consistency: How often do you change your mind?
  • Openness: Do you share information about yourself or do you just expect others to do so?
  • Loyalty: Do you support people only when everything is great or also when they are struggling?
  • Competence: Do you know what you are talking about?
  • Integrity : Are your actions matching your words ? 

Communication Strategy for a good leader

A good communication strategy for a leader is to include both positive and negative aspects in your message and be specific and concise. An excellent example is that both U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Massachusetts governor Edward Everett gave a speech after the Gettysburg battle in 1863 (Civil War). Everett’s speech was 2 hours long, and Lincoln’s was 2 minutes. However, everyone only remembers what Lincoln said in the address. Therefore, good communication should be short and specific.

If you are interested in Lincoln’s speech, it is the links for the speech and transcript.

Conclusion

Communication is very important not only for leadership but also for everyone in daily life. In the next blog, I will introduce how we communicate with people from different cultures and how we lead an effective meeting.

As a member of Professor Robert (Bob) Langer’s group, it is my pleasure to write a blog to introduce Bob and the journey to join the most creative group at MIT. If you want to know more about our research, please find my previous blog, “What engineers can do in the biomedical field?

The Journey to Langer Lab

I could vividly remember the first time I arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and the next day was the Cornell Biomedical Engineering annual retreat, where Bob was the keynote speaker. However, for an international student who had just entered the US, I did not know who he was and why so many people/faculties stood around him. After the retreat, I learned about him through a google search.

Educational training of Bob

Bob is a pioneer in biomedical engineering, and he is the first engineer who worked in a hospital to do biomedical research. In his educational training, he received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Unlike his classmates, Bob did not go into the petroleum industry after graduation from MIT. Still, he chose to do his postdoctoral training in Dr. Judah Folkman’s lab at Boston Children’s Hospital to develop anti-VEGF drugs for cancer treatment.

Bob Langer, Edison of Medicine

Bob is called Edison of Medicine; also, he is one of 12 Institute Professors at MIT, which is the highest honor that can be awarded to a faculty member.  Bob has written more than 1,500 articles, and he is the most cited engineer in history (h-index 299 with over 363,000 citations according to Google Scholar).  He also has over 1,400 issued and pending patents worldwide.  Additionally, his patents have been licensed or sublicensed to over 400  pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology, and medical device companies. More importantly, Bob is a co-founder of many companies, including Moderna, which developed great COVID-19 to help humans build immune protection from coronavirus during the pandemic. From 1999 to 2002, Bob served as Chairman of the FDA’s Science Board (its highest advisory board). Last, Bob received numerous awards, including both the United States National Medal of Science and the United States National Medal of Technology and Innovation (he is one of 3 living individuals to have received both these honors), the Charles Stark Draper Prize (often called the Engineering Nobel Prize), Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Albany Medical Center Prize, Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Kyoto Prize, Wolf Prize for Chemistry, Millennium Technology Prize, Priestley Medal (highest award of the American Chemical Society), Gairdner Prize, Hoover Medal, Dreyfus Prize in Chemical Sciences, and the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine. He holds 36 honorary doctorates and has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Inventors. That is why people called him the Edison of Medicine.

The Cornell alumni event in Boston where I first talk to Bob.

Cornell alumni event in Boston

In December 2017, I attended an alumni event in Boston where Bob was the host, and it was my first time to have an in-person interaction with Bob because it was a small event with 20-30 people. After the event, I connected with Bob. I received a lot of help from him, including the recommendation letter for my green card application, sharing his experience when I did not know what I decided to do after graduation, and advice for my career development. Now I am working in Langer/Anderson lab at MIT. It is a wonderful experience in this creative environment and being part of Langerites.

Langer Syndrome

It is a common genetic disorder (particularly in Langerites) caused by the overexpression of the genes for wanting to be like Bob. 😂 The symptoms are “carrying multiple mobile devices”, “tendency to respond to emails in <5 mins”, “High frequency of saying, “That’s gonna be big”,”Super”, “fantastic”,…”, “High craving for chocolate and diet coke”. I believe if you found someone has any symptoms above, he/she is highly possible one of the Langerites.

Bob’s advice

Bob always gives us simple, true, and powerful advice. Here, I would like to share with everyone: “Believe in yourself. If you love this work, pursue it. Be persistent. Don’t give up!”

Conclusion

This is my mentor, role model, Bob Langer, and my journey to Langer lab at MIT. I hope one day we could have seen/done further by standing on the shoulder of the giant, Professor Robert Langer.

On 4/25/2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Aministration (FDA) approved that the treatment of Veklury (remdesivir) is expanded to pediatric patients who are at least 28 days old, 3 kilograms are tested positive with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 and high risk to progress to severe condition.

Current drugs for COVID-19

In U.S., two types of anti-viral drug to effectively treat COVID-19 are Pfizer (Paxlovid) and Merck (Molnupiravir), However, they cannot be used in children due to its ability to block growth of cartilage and bone. Please find the detail in previous blog, Antiviral pills for COVID-19.

Who can use Veklury (remdesivir)?

Before 4/25/2022, Veklury (remdesivir) could only use to treat adult patient and pediatric patients who are at least 12 years old and at least 40 kilograms with COVID-19. After 4/25/2022, the application of Veklury (remdesivir) is expanded to pediatric patients who are at least 28 days old and 3 kilograms to receive treatment because there is not vaccine for those children to prevent hospitalized and death from COVID-19 and also no effective drug to treat COVID-19 in these children.

Potential Side Effects

Possible side effects of using Veklury include increased levels of liver enzymes, which may be a sign of liver injury; and allergic reactions, which may include changes in blood pressure and heart rate, low blood oxygen level, fever, shortness of breath, wheezing, swelling (e.g., lips, around eyes, under the skin), rash, nausea, sweating or shivering.

Veklury (remdesivir) cannot replace vaccine

Although FDA approved the usage of Veklury (remdesivir) in children, this drug could not prevent any infection, hospitalization or death. Once FDA approve the COVID vaccine from Moderna or Pfizer/BNT in children, please bring your kids to receive the vaccine to protect your kids and family from COVID-19.

Conclusion

This is a great news for parents whose kids are less than 12 years old because there is no vaccine and drugs to protect younger kids from COVID-19. The most important thing for these parents is to maintain social distance, wash your hands, and be fully vaccinated until your kids could obtain protection from FDA approved vaccine.

Related Blogs

Rapid COVID test would be the key to end the pandemic?

Omicron, BA.2 subvariant, is it the last variant in the pandemic?

COVID-19 and the variants

Antiviral pills for COVID-19

Become a successful leader 4: Be an inspiring leader, The Golden Circle Theory

I have explained everyday leadership, self-awareness, and personality in previous blogs. Being an inspiring leader is essential in leading a team/group to become successful. Additionally, an inspiring leader should be passionate, confident, decisive, emotionally intelligent, and strategic. For example, Winston Churchill brought the U.K. to the victory of World War II; Martin Luther King Jr. inspired the American people with him “I Have A Dream” speech to contribute to the American civil rights. This article will introduce the golden circle theory proposed by Simon Sinek. A new thinking logic could help us to learn inspired leadership.

The Golden Circle Theory

The Golden Circle Theory

The Golden Circle Theory provides an exciting way to think about a brand and business and inspire your audiences/consumers/team members. Usually, when a team leader tells his/her team members, the first thing is the task we need to do. Second, the leader talks about how we make it, and the last is why we need to do it. However, if we reverse this thinking logically, first, we explain why we want to do this. Will this be more inspiring? Taking cell therapy for type I diabetes patients as an example, a group leader first tells a story to describe the daily lives of type I diabetes patients receiving multiple shots of insulin every day. It is challenging because no one likes to get shots. To save the patients from insulin injection, we need to “cure” diabetes, not just “treat” it. Last, we would develop a new therapeutic to transplant the pancreatic cells in the patient’s body to replace the damaged pancreas and regulate the blood glucose level. This is an example to show what an inspiring leader does.

Another example-Apple

Apple sold computers initially, but why did Apple become a huge company with various products, including the iPhone, iPod, iPad, MacBook…etc. Instead of promoting the products, Apple first explains its core value in designing a beautiful product that everyone can easily use it. That’s the reason why Apple start the business. Then Apple tells consumers how they do it and what they can provide in the Apple event. After the event, people worldwide crazily buy every product from Apple.

How does Golden Circle Theory work?

Most leaders or organizations like to do from “What” to “Why” (outside-in), but an inspired leader/ organization thinks oppositely from “Why” to “What.” To understand how it works, first, we know that human beings always try to find out the meaning; therefore, people do not buy what you have done but why you do it. Another explanation is that the human brain is the organ that makes decisions. In our brain, the outer layer, the neocortex, is responsible for rational, analytical thinking and language, and the inner sections, the limbic brain, are responsible for emotional, feeling, and decision-making. So, decision-making is not from language but the feeling or emotions. In other words, it is our nature to decide by our gut feeling.

TED Talk by Simon Sinek

If you are interested in this, you could also watch the TED talk video by Simon Sinek. He proposed this theory and explained how it works.

Conclusion

In sum, an inspired leader/ business would move audiences with a touching story. We could learn the inspired leadership by the golden circle theory to think from “Why,” “How,” to “What” in the business. I hope everyone can learn and practice the golden circle theory and become a good leader to lead your team/ company to success.

Become a successful leader (3): Know who I am, and what personality I have.

In the last article, I introduced what self-awareness is and why it is so important for leadership development. To better understand ourselves, except for the reflection and asking others how they see us, we could also take a personality test. The most popular personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which consists of 16 personality types. Here I will use the MBTI personality test to explain how we use it to know who we are and what personality we have.

Free MBTI personality test

The official MBTI test is a paid test, however, there is a free version through a platform, called 16 Personalities. You could take a free test and get the result to know what type of personality you are.

Why do I need to know my personality?

Our behavior is decided by our personality traits, and the behavioral outcomes would highly impact our relationships with others. There 6 different types of relationships in our lives:

  • The container: people who make you feel safe and secure
  • The twin: people who have similarities with you
  • The adversary: people who usually oppose and confront you
  • The mirror: people who provide reflection to you
  • The mystic friend: people who know you in a mysterious way without speaking to you
  • The conscious partner: people who company with you and share the life experience with each other

We all need these 6 types of relationships to help us for personal growth and transformation at certain time points in our lives. Therefore, we have to learn our personalities and manage our relationships.

4 key elements in the MBTI personality test

In the MBTI personality test, we use 4 elements to characterize us from these personality aspects: mind, energy, nature, and tactics. In each aspect, we could divide into 2 different personality types.

  • Mind: where you focus attention; extraversion (E) or introversion (I)
  • Energy: the way you take in information; sensing (S) or intuition (N)
  • Nature: how you make decisions; thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Tactics: how you deal with the world; judging (J) or perceiving (P)

To better understand the personality type, here is the definition for each type:

  • E, Exroverts: Enjoy hanging out with people, easy to get energized by people, enjoy a variety of tasks, a quick pace, and are good at multitasking
  • I, Introverts: Enjoy working alone or in a small group, prefer to work at a deliverate pace, also like to focus on one taks at a time
  • T, Thinkers:Good at using logical analysis, objectively weigh pros and cons, and value honesty, consistency, and fairness to make decision
  • F, Feelers: Tend to be sensitive and cooperative, and decide based on their onw personal values and how others will be affected by their actions
  • S, Sensors: Realistic, like to focus on the facts and details, apply coomon sense and past experience to come up with practical solutions to problems
  • N, Intuitives: Prefer to focus on possibilities and the big picture, easily see patterns, value innovation, and seek creative solutions to problems
  • J, Judgers: Tend to be organized and prepared, like to make and stick to plans, and are comfortable following most rules
  • P, Perceivers: Prefer to keep their options open, like to be able to act spontaneously, and like to be flexible with making plans

16 personalities

According to the 4 elements and 8 types, we could divide people into 16 personalities. First, we use goals, interests, and activities (Energy&Nature) to define 4 roles, Analysts (_NT_), Diplomats (_NF_), Sentinels (_S_J), and Explorers (_S_P). In each role, 4 personality types are defined by the preferred way to achieve goals (Mind&Tactics).

Once you find out which type of personality you have, there are resources on the 16 personalities website to introduce the personality including strengths, weaknesses, relationships, friendships, parenthood, career path, workplace habit…etc. From this information, we could better understand ourselves and train and grow to compensate for our weaknesses.

Conclusion

From my personal aspect, I think that finding out who we are, and what personality I have is a fun thing because it provides some clues that I never thought of. Taking me as an example, the test result is Commander (ENTJ-A), and I checked the information about this type. I learned that my weaknesses might be stubborn, intolerant, poor handling of emotions, cold and ruthless, but I could start to work on these to develop my own leadership. What is your test result? Please share with me. I am interested in seeing other personality types.

Become a successful leader (2): Self-Awareness

In last article, I introduced what everyday leadership is. Self-awareness is the first task in leadership development. We should learn how to lead ourselves to a successful career before we could lead people. This article I will share the concept of self-awareness, and people who want to start the leadership development to practice self-swareness and in advance to aware of others. Once you get more understanding in yourself, you would know how to make a right decision in a crisis.

What is Leadership?

Before you continue to read the blog, you could write down what makes a good leader. Here I will list some characteristics I think a good leader should have:

  • Charisma
  • Competence
  • Passion
  • Vision
  • Listening
  • Responsibility
  • Problem solving
  • Positive attitude
  • Communication
  • Self-discipline
  • Relationship

Also, another question is what not makes a leader:

A manager does not mean a leader; having power is not leadership; Charisma also does not mean leadership. In fact, different cultures have their own definition in leadership, for example, the leadership in the U.S. is to adapt different cultures and becomes a cultural melange.

What is a good leader?

A good leader is like a pilot of an airplane; he/she knows to find a way to reach the destination. Therefore, an effective leader should have a high degree of eomotional intelligence in addition to IQ and technical skills. Moreover, there are 5 components in emotional intelligence:

  • self-awareness: know my and other’s emotion, strength, weakness, values and goals.
  • self-regulation: know to control or redirect disruptive emotions and impulses
  • social skill: manage relatioships in a group
  • motivation: encourage others to achieve for the work/ goal
  • empathy: consider others’ feelings when he/she is making decision

What is self-awareness?

The definitoin of self-awareness is to understand myself in emotion, strength, weakness, value and goals. The way to achieve self-awareness is to use reflection and feedback to gain insight into our strength and find out the need of our personal development. Sometimes it is a tough part in leadership development because we are always afriad of finding our the hidden part of us, and we might miss our chance for personal growth. Additionally, if we want to protect ourselves from problems, it might create more problems and consume all the energy. So, when we face struggles and become upset, it might be a great time to discover anything about ourselves but it is not consistent with what we think we are.

How do we achieve self-awareness?

We could achive self-awareness by following ways:

  • introspection/reflection/meditation
  • resonances
  • identify crucible moments
  • ask others how they see us
  • take a personality test

Frist, we could ask ourselves, “who am I?”, “what are my strengths?”, “How do I perform?”, “Am I a good listener?”, “How do I learn?”, “What are my values?”, “Where do I belong?”, “What should I contribute?”. Meditation might be a way to allow you to think all the questions above, and we could meditate by using resonances which ampligy the signal by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object. For example, we might be in good mood when we see a beutiful picture or listen to the music we like. This is the right time to do meditation. In addition, when there is any crisis, we should put ourselves in other people’s shoes to oberve ourselves. Or we could think about any crisis in the past, and if we could go back to that time, do we still solve the problem in the same way? These are the methods how we achieve self-awareness by oursleves. Self-awareness is could also be achieved by the help from others. For example, we could ask the people surrounding us for the feedback and how they see us. Or we could do a personality test to better understand ourselves. I will discuss the personality in my next blog.

Conclusion

Self-awareness is a great miletone in the leadership development and sometimes it is difficult for us to find out anything bad in ourselves. But trust me, it might be hard in the beginning of leadership developement, and if we keep working on self-awareness, it could lead us not only in sucessful career but also to a good leader.

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Become a successful leader (1): Everyday Leadership

Introduction to leadership

Everyday Leadership is a very useful tool for everyone in their daily lives, and in every life/career stage, we would have different ideas about leadership. It would be better for everyone to learn and think about leadership as soon as possible. Therefore, I want to share the leadership-related courses and workshops with you and discuss any questions in leadership development because that’s how to learn leadership from each other. I will prepare a series of articles to share the concept and my opinions, and I hope both of us can develop our own leadership from each other’s life experiences.

What is everyday leadership?

There are two types of leadership, managing tasks and managing people. Usually, the first thing coming into mind is either a project leader or a team manager when we talk about leadership. However, there is a new concept called everyday leadership which means that we can show our leadership in our daily lives when we change someone’s life, even we do not notice. Here is a perfect example in the TED talk about everyday leadership by Drew Dudley.

My everyday leadership story

When I was a Ph.D. student at Cornell University, I always had a conversation with undergrad students who wanted to join the group. Having undergrad research to volunteer in the lab is helpful to me, but I prefer to know if this experience could benefit the student by meeting with this student before he/she decides to join. The first thing I like to ask is, “What is your goal for undergraduate research? “”What do you want to do after graduating from Cornell?” and “What will you see yourself in the next 5/10/20 years?” These questions could help me understand the student’s need for his/her future career and how I could help. Sometimes the student might not think about these questions, so I will let them think about them before continuing the conversation. I had two students who had this conversation with me, and they all found the right career track after graduating from Cornell University. One student moved to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for his Ph.D. program, and he brought his family to the lab on the commencement day to say thank you to me because I changed his life to pursue a Ph.D. in science. This surprised me because I did not notice that what I had done could change someone’s life, and this is my story about everyday leadership.

4 components in everyday leadership

Four components in everyday leadership

Self-awareness

There are 4 components in everyday leadership, self-awareness, relationship, organizational awareness, and purposeful action. The first step to becoming a leader is to know himself/herself and lead him/her to a successful outcome, so self-awareness is very important to understand your own character, motives, desires, feeling, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. How could we achieve self-awareness? A simple method is to ask people surrounding you for feedback, and it might be hard to become open to feedback. Therefore, you need to be brave, honest with yourself, vulnerable, and open to change anything.

Relationships

There are differnt rols in a group, and a good leader build relationship between the group members who could fill roles and become a useful action. Here are the roles in a group:

  • Role Models
  • Thought Partners
  • Coaches
  • Feedback Partners
  • Allies
  • Cheersleaders

A role model is usually someone you want to be in the future. Thought partners help you think by challenging your perspectives, testing your assumptions, and sharing his/her insights and experiences. Coaches usually encourage and support your self-reflection to increase your capacity to learn and develop your profession. Feedback partners observe your behavior and provide insightful and valuable feedback. Allies are the one collaborating with you to pursue the same dream, and cheerleaders encourage you, support you, celebrate with you for success, pick you up when you are down.

organizational awareness

You could think that organizational awareness is to understand the working environment and culture and helps you finish your work. Additionally, an organization’s culture includes stated/ unstated values, rules, and norms. Once we better understand organizational awareness, we will know how to become successful leaders in this culture.

purposeful action

To have a proper outcome, the most important thing is to take the right action. Many people think about what they should do to become good leaders, but they never start to do any of these great ideas. Then nothing would change, and they could not be a successful leader. To have the right action, first, we should have an expected result in mind and be aligned with our values, such as creating a better working environment and thinking of an achievable solution to take action. Last, we should do this step by step, and eventually, we could see the result and make a better working environment.

Conclusion

Everyday leadership would be a start to devleop your own leadership and the only thing you need to know after reading this article is to believe you can do it. Think about these 4 components in everyday leadership and keep practing. I believe we all can be an everyday leader.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions and we could dicuss it. Also, if you like this article, please share it and recommend this to your friends. Thanks.

What is chemical engineering? How do chemical engineers earn 108k in a year with a bachelor’s degree?

If you are a high school student and want to know what chemical engineering is? Is it reasonable to choose chemical engineering as a major in college? How can chemical engineers make 108,000 USD with a bachelor’s degree in a year? Because I studied chemical engineering and civil engineering at National Taiwan University. I would like to introduce what chemical engineering is and what you will learn from chemical engineering.

What is chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering is to apply principles of chemistry, engineering (math and physics), biology in manufacturing processes, including refining raw materials, mixing, separating, and purification for valuable products. To become a chemical engineer, several professional skills are required, such as fundamental physic, chemistry, engineering mathematics, including solving partial differential equations, unit operations (fluidic dynamic, heat transfer, mass transfer), equipment design, and process design. Additionally, the training would allow a chemical engineer to work in the petroleum industry, including the upstream oil industry and downstream chemical companies. If you are interested in the detail of basic training in chemical engineering, you could check the chemical engineering handbook.

How important chemical engineers are in the company?

From the training, the role of chemical engineers is to manufacture the valuable product for the company with a cost-efficient process. Taking the petroleum industry as an example, the first thing chemical engineers should do is select the source and refine the raw materials. Second, chemical engineers would apply the fluid dynamic with the unit operation to design the pipes to connect each equipment unit to separate the oil into different products, such as the distillation tower. Additionally, distillation column design is a critical step in crude oil separation. The number of stages (trays) in the distillation column would be calculated to ensure the purity of the product. However, the number of stages would also affect the cost-efficiency of the process. Fewer stages in the tower might cause impurity in the final product. Still, more number of trays would increase the cost of manufacturing. Therefore, the importance of chemical engineers in the company is to optimize the process with the lowest price to manufacture high-quality and valuable products.

What industry could chemical engieerg do?

Chemical engineers could work not only in the petroleum industry but also in other industries that required product manufacturing, such as the semiconductor industry, the pharmaceutical company. Each industry requires additional training; for example, if you want to work in the semiconductor industry, you need to take courses in semiconductive materials, photolithography…etc. If you want to join the pharma, it is better to learn biology, including cell culture, protein biology, virology depending on the drug product. Therefore, you could explore your career interest before deciding which classes you want to take in college.

Be smart to choose the school for your future career

Last, I want to explain that chemical engineering at different schools might focus on another field. For example, the chemical engineering department at Cornell Univerisity provides more courses in the semiconductor field and biological field than petroleum field. Chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin focuses on classes related to the traditional oil industry. In other words, the training in chemical engineering from different schools might affect your future career due to the skills you learn.

Conclusion

I believe that chemical engineering would be a great starting point to explore your future career if you are interested in the engineering field because we could apply the fundamental knowledge from chemical engineering to different areas. If you have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, you could choose another major in graduate school for additional training. Hope you will get a better understanding of chemical engineering from this blog, and feel free to leave a comment to let me know if you have any questions about chemical engineering.

How do we make 2 successful COVID mRNA vaccines?

Introduction

According to COVID data from World Health Organization (2022/02/28), total COVID cases have reached 400 million, and the COVID-induced death is close to 6 million people. On the bright sight, the COVID vaccines have been administered over 10 billion doses, and around 4 billion people are fully vaccinated now. Among the FDA-approved COVID vaccine, the primary modality is mRNA-based vaccines from Moderna or Pfizer/BNT. In February 2022, Moderna announced establishing subsidiaries in four Asian countries, including Taiwan, and planning to manufacture COVID vaccine and other mRNA-based drugs in Taiwan. What is the procedure to make an mRNA vaccine and mRNA-based drugs? Here I will explain how the lipid nanoparticles with mRNA are manufactured.

Figure 1, the mechanism of gene therpay: DNA transcripts into RNA which could translate into proteins in cells.

Mechanism of gene therapy

First, we need to know what mRNA is. In our cells, chromosomes composed of DNA and proteins in the nucleus control the gene expression by different DNA fragments. Additionally, the mechanism is that first, the DNA in the nucleus transcripts into messenger RNA (mRNA), and the mRNA would translate into protein to be expressed in the cells (Figure 1 ). Also, that’s why mRNA plays an essential role in molecular biology. To produce the mRNA, we would need a lot of DNA templates for in vitro transcription (IVT), and the easier way to collect a large number of DNA templates is to clone the desired DNA template into a plasmid and transforms it into E. coli, to use E. coli to grow and produce a lot of plasmids for IVT. After collecting the plasmids from E. coli, we would use enzymes to isolate the DNA template to make the RNA through IVT reactions. (Figure 2) The mRNA structure comprises the RNA coding region, untranslated region, capping, and poly-A tail. (Figure 3) Therefore, we need to add 5′ capping and 3′ poly-A tail to the IVT RNA before purification. The mRNA production is a simple reaction, but several essential elements affect the mRNA efficacy.

Key elements in IVT reaction

First, we need to add a T7 promoter in the DNA template because T7 RNA polymerase is required in the IVT. Second, the RNA coding region should be designed by codon-optimization to prevent the single-strand RNA from forming secondary structure to decrease the efficacy. Third, there is an untranslated region (UTR) on each side of the coding region. Although the UTR would not be translated into protein, these regions could affect the efficacy of mRNA in the cells. Additionally, a good UTR sequence could improve protein production in vitro and in vivo and alleviate the immune response triggered by the mRNA. In the biotech company, the UTR sequences are confidential because they could highly affect mRNA therapeutics’ efficacy. Last, the 5′ cap is also a crucial element in mRNA synthesis. In the COVID vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, the capping system, CleanCapⓇ is from another mRNA biotech company, Trilink, to minimize the immune response in the body and increase the vaccine efficacy. Therefore, the whole production of mRNA is pretty complicated. I will prepare another blog to introduce the IVT reaction and the following procedure to produce mRNA.

Figure 2, scalable production of DNA template for in-vitro transcription (IVT) reactions.
Figure 3, The mRNA structure comprises the RNA coding region, untranslated region, capping, and poly-A tail.

Lipid nanoparticles production

Next, after purification of capped mRNA with polyA tail, we could mix the mRNA and lipid-like materials to manufacture the lipid nanoparticles (LNP). In the previous blog (introduction to gene therapy), I have introduced how cationic lipid-like materials form LNP under acidic conditions by electrostatic interaction. The critical factor in LNP production is mixing because well-mixing could allow the cationic materials and anionic nucleic acids to form a more compact structure and smaller nanoparticles. To make those mRNA-based LNP with less than 100 nanometers in diameter, we used a microfluidic device with a micromixer to better mix the organic phase (lipid-like materials) and aqueous phase (nucleic acids) by chaotic advection (Figure 4). The smaller size of LNP could prevent liver filtration after administration. Furthermore, another essential step is how we purify the LNP and remove the residuals during the process to minimize the side effects of the mRNA-based vaccine.

Figure 4, microfluidic device with micromixer is used to produce lipid nanoparticles with mRNA.

Conclusion

Although the whole process looks pretty simple, every step in manufacturing is critical to maintaining a safe and efficient vaccine. There is still a lot of work we could do in research to improve the mRNA therapeutics: How we design the coding sequences UTR sequences. How we develop a new capping system and nucleotides to alleviate immune response. Also, currently, all the FDA-approved mRNA-based vaccines are used non-degradable materials to deliver mRNA. Most scientists and biotech companies are working on new degradable materials in RNA therapeutics. Therefore, if you are interested in gene therapy, maybe you could consider contributing to the field of mRNA therapeutics.

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Rapid COVID test would be the key to end the pandemic?

The COVID pandemic might enter the late stage due to the low toxicity of new COVID variants, such as the Omicron variant. However, the omicron variant has high transmissibility than other variants. How could we stop the transmission and end the pandemic? Maybe a rapid COVID test could be the solution. Let’s understand why a quick COVID test would be essential.

There are two types of tests, diagnostic tests and antibody tests. Diagnostic tests are usually used to determine if we have an active COVID-19 infection. If tested for positive COVID, we need to take steps, potential treatment, and quarantine to isolate ourselves from others to prevent transmission. On the other hand, an antibody test is measured to determine the antibodies produced from the immune system in response to the COVID virus. It means that we could not use an antibody test to identify active COVID-19 infection. When should we get a COVID test? There are several conditions, you should do a COVID test, either molecular or antigen tests. 1. If you have any COVID symptoms, including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath (difficulty breathing), fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, or runny nose, nausea, or vomiting, diarrhea. Even you are fully vaccinated, you should have a COVID test. 2. If you have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The definition of close contact is to stay with a COVID-positive person within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes. 3. If you had any activities that might put you at high risk for COVID-19, such as traveling, attending a significant social event, crowded indoor gathering. Last, sometimes the workplace or school might establish a screening program to maintain a COVID-free environment. Depending on the program regulation, you might need to do the COVID test weekly.

Figure1, the real-time viral RNA replicates through reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and the cycle threshold (Ct) value is measured. When the Ct value is smaller, the higher the viral RNA is measured.

The diagnostic tests consist of molecular tests and antigen tests. The primary method is nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) in the molecular test. Its amplifying methods are divided into two groups, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), isothermal amplification including nicking endonuclease amplification reaction (NEAR), transcription-mediated amplification (TMA), loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), helicase-dependent amplification (HDA), clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), strand displacement amplification (SDA). Both amplifying methods measure the amount of viral RNA in the body, but the isothermal amplification method might shorten the time to get the Ct (cycle threshold) value. What is Ct value? In the RT-PCR, we used the fluorescent probe to measure the total amount of RNA in each cycle, and the number of cycles reaching the threshold is called the Ct value. In other words, when the Ct value is lower, there are more viral RNA to be detected. In current regulations, there is no standard for Ct value in NAATs. In general, the test result would be positive in COVID-19 viral RNA detection when the Ct value is between 35-40. This is why some people might receive a negative COVID test before the international flight but for a test positive after entering the U.S. On the other hands, the antigen test measures the protein from the virus to identify the infection. Usually, the antigen test is less sensitive to the COVID virus detection but has a shorter time to receive the result than NAATs. Here is the summary table to compare the NAATs and antigen tests:

Table1. Comparison between NAATs and antigen tests

The antigen test could provide a quick and cheap result to screen people who have a potential infection in a community, but it might need to repeat the test to confirm the result by NAAT. For example, in a community screening, we should use an antigen test as a rapid COVID test to quickly screen the people who might have contact with the COVID-19 virus. If a person does not have any symptoms of COVID-19, and the result of the antigen test shows positive, then this person needs to do additional NAAT to determine whether this person has COVID-19 or not. If a person has COVID symptoms, and the antigen test result shows negative, this person still needs a NAAT to confirm the infection. If the final result is positive in COVID-19, then quarantine would be required to stop the virus transmission. Also, if there is an outbreak in the community, serial testing should be done every 3-7 days until there are no new COVID-19 cases for 14 days.

Figure 2, the COVID-19 viral RNA accumulates in the infected body while the viral antigen also increases in the body for antigen test. The sensitivity of viral detection is higher by NAATs than antigen tests.

In sum, the COVID-19 pandemic might enter the late stage because the new variant shows a high transmission rate but less toxicity to humans, and what we need to do to prevent any recent outbreak from breaking down the medical system is frequent rapid COVID test to maintain a COVID-free environment. Then we could get back to our normal life soon.

Reference:

  1. the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevenetion, www.cdc.gov
  2. Paul Drain, Rapid Diagnostic Testing for SARS-CoV-2. N Engl J Med 2022; 386:264-272 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMcp2117115

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Jason (Yen-Chun) Lu, All right reserved.