Astarte’s scientists bring a wealth of immunology research expertise from diverse backgrounds. With extensive experience in a variety of biologics disciplines, our team is an ideal resource for a wide range of outsource research services. From multiplex assays to flow cytometric analyses, Astarte helps you get on with discovery.
In this researcher spotlight, we introduce you to Astarte’s Chief Scientist, Benjamin Tjoa.
Title: Chief Scientist
With Astarte Since: 2013
Alma Mater: B.S. in Chemistry, University of Oklahoma
Alma Mater: Ph.D. in Biochemistry/Immunology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Years of Experience: 20+ years
Ben, what is your primary role as Astarte’s Chief Scientist?
As Astarte’s Chief Scientist, I lead all R&D and Product Development projects. I also provide research expertise to our customers who contact us with technical questions.
What interesting research projects have you been working on recently?
I’m constantly generating antigen-specific T cells, which are especially tricky to grow because they can easily lose their reactivity to the antigen. Antigen-specific T cells are very important these days with the excitement and interest around cancer immunotherapies.
I’ve also been busy recently with cell-based assay development for several clients.
What research services are you most passionate about providing?
I really enjoy the assay development work we do here at Astarte. Developing a reliable assay that others can easily carry out is a challenge, but it gives me an opportunity to be creative.
Do you have a favorite piece of equipment in the lab or a go-to protocol?
My lab mates would say it is the microscope because I do like to examine my cell cultures. I learn a lot about the health of my cultures just by paying attention to their morphology.
This is especially important in one of my areas of expertise, dendritic cells, which are the key to effective immune responses. As one of the first scientists to develop dendritic cells for use in cell-based vaccines, I’ve had the opportunity to travel internationally to set up laboratories for dendritic cell-based therapies.
What led you to become a scientist and earn your Ph.D.?
My dad is a chemical engineer and had a small chemistry lab at home, so I was exposed to science at a very young age. During my undergraduate years, I became intrigued by how biological processes work.
Any tips for young people interested in a career in biosciences?
Science can be very discouraging since it is built on trial and error. Lots of experiments either don’t work out or give different results than what you expect, so you have to be very tenacious in pursuing your research goals.
That’s also true in finding the right career situation. The critical thinking and problem solving we have as scientists are applicable in many different ways, but you need to be persistent to find a workplace that allows you to use those skills.
What advances in research or techniques do you foresee in 2017?
In 2017, there will be further development of immune-based strategies to fight cancer, such as:
- • Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T Cell Therapy
- • Blocking of various inhibitory immune checkpoints [PD-1, PDL-1, CTLA-4, IDO, B7-H4]
- • Activation of stimulatory checkpoints [CD40, 4-1BB (CD137), OX40 (CD134), and others]
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not in the lab?
I am a big fan, supporter and season ticket holder of the University of Washington women’s volleyball team.
I also love to travel all over the world. My favorite destination has to be Indonesia, where I was born and raised until coming to the U.S. for college. I also love traveling the U.S. Southwest. Tucson and the Palm Desert are among my favorite places.
To learn more about Benjamin, connect with him on LinkedIn.