Student Spotlight

Biological Hydrogels Group: Jacob Witten

 Jacbob Witten

Hometown, Country:

Pacific Palisades, CA, USA

Academic history prior to coming to MIT

BA in Biophysics and Mathematics from Amherst College, 2014.

What brought you to MIT?

I was looking for ways to use my math and physics training to solve impactful biological and biomedical problems. MIT is an incredibly strong center for quantitative biology, and in particular I saw a lot of potential for fruitful and novel computational biophysics research in Principal Investigator Katharina Ribbeck’s lab.

What problem are you trying to solve with your current research and what are some possible applications?

Mucus is amazing: it protects us from pathogens and toxins while at the same time housing much of our microbiome. But on the other hand, it is a major barrier to drug delivery, blocking the actions of critical drugs from antibiotics to gene therapy nanoparticles. I am trying to understand and predict which molecular properties lead to efficient mucus penetration, in order to design more effective medicines.

What interests you most about your research?

I love how my research integrates so many of my interests. My project involves a combination of molecular modeling, machine learning, and deep knowledge of the biochemistry of mucus, plus plenty of wet lab work to keep me grounded. With such a wide spectrum of fields combining to give insight into mucus’ function, it’s impossible to ever get bored.

What are your future plans?

I want to continue working with quantitative and physical biology to advance medicine, whether in industry or academia.