Postdoc Highlight: Jorge A. Mojica Santiago

Jorge A. Mojica Santiago, Ph.D.

Lab: The Schmidt Lab: Biomimetic Materials & Neural Engineering, PI: Dr. Christine E. Schmidt

Hometown: Mayagüez, Puerto Rico

Degree: Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Year you became a Gator: Fall 2018

From which institutions do you hold degrees?
B.S. Mechanical Engineering, University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, Mayagüez, PR (2012)
Ph.D. Biomedical Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (2018)

Research focus (please include the impact of your research):
The work conducted in the Schmidt Lab encompasses several research areas, and yet an overarching theme is that we leverage materials derived from natural sources that are biologically compatible for neurological therapies (in vivo) and for testing treatments in a lab bench (in vitro). Since our lab is highly collaborative, I have contributed to various projects whose objectives span from generating an injectable carrier of therapeutics for spinal cord injury to advancing a regenerative electronic device that would allow amputees to sense through prosthetics. Contributing to these teams have opened exciting new areas of research opportunities for me, and helped me learn new skills and gain new mentors.

Stemming from my background in musculoskeletal research, my main research projects focus on the development of tools to screen drugs and potential treatments for debilitating diseases, such as aging-related muscle wasting. In one of these applications, we are interested in using the micro-gravity environment found in the International Space Station to investigate accelerated degeneration of skeletal muscle as it has been experienced by astronauts. For this project, our team is developing a muscle-on-a-chip, which consists of a scaled down engineered muscle with cells derived from patients, that can be functionally tested with electrical pulses and imaged while in space. This work will likely impact the increasing aging population who undergo degenerative changes in skeletal muscle by helping identify potential drugs targets. I have also sought to integrate the established expertise of the lab in processing tissues from donor sources for cellular removal and implement these tissue-specific biomaterials along with 3D bioprinting technologies to manufacture drug-screening tools. Our work in this area is intended to provide promising alternatives of patient-specific testing platforms in ailments present in neural and musculoskeletal tissues, such as ALS and back pain.

What motivates you?
My long-term career goal is to become an independent investigator in an academic institution where I could advise the next generation of scientists and biomedical engineers. When I look back 10 years ago, as a college student in an institution that served a majority of LatinX students, I would have never imagined I would be where I am today. I recall distinctly how my first experience living among lab peers with whom I could only speak English during a summer internship was truly challenging, yet it was also the same environment where I was inspired to pursue a graduate degree in the exciting BME field. Nowadays, I have been entrusted with leading a team of undergraduate research assistants and witnessing my trainees mature into inquisitive researchers while holding academic excellence motivates my career goal even more. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have many mentors who have guided me and help me grow as a scientist without ever losing that impetus for teaching and training others to discover new knowledge. I strive to pay it forward and become a role model and educator of folks from diverse backgrounds.

What attracted you to UF BME?
I was primarily drawn to seek postdoctoral training with Dr. Schmidt for her expertise in biomaterials-cell interactions for nerve regeneration and novel biomaterial development based on decellularized tissue matrices. Being at the University of Florida also allowed me to be relatively closer, at least in a shorter flight distance, to my family in Puerto Rico. Once I joined UF BME, I was glad to be witness and form part of such a collegial and warm community (plus, I never imagined that festivities such as Halloween and Winter Holidays with coworkers would be so fun!).

What I love about Gainesville:
I like that Gainesville offers a family friendly environment in a relatively laid back community and is conveniently located in terms of driving distance to many larger urban areas (e.g. Orlando, Tampa, Atlanta, New Orleans, etc.) While I wish we were closer to the beach, I certainly enjoy going to some of the local natural areas like Lake Wauburg and community parks.