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 Senior Research Associate, Chris Tompkins.
Title: Senior Research Associate
With Astarte Since: 2015
Alma Mater: B.S. in Biology and Environmental Sciences, Willamette University
Years of Experience: 25+ years
Chris, what is your primary role as Senior Research Associate at Astarte?
I am in charge of all of our cell processing and adding new products to our inventory. When we receive cell donations, I isolate the cells and prep them for freezing.
Quality control is highly important in our work, so I take great care in analyzing and documenting cell counts and viability using flow cytometry and functional assays to make sure all of our products meet our customers’ high expectations. We compile all of this information into detailed Certificates of Analysis for every product, so customers can evaluate the specifications before purchasing.
Before Astarte, I worked for a molecular biology group for many years, focusing on cloning DNA for protein expression in drug discovery. This was before the human genome was sequenced, so we had to clone specific genes and enzyme pathways and patent them.
From there I did more work in protein expression and purification, screening constructs, and making proteins for our discovery platform. I transitioned to the cell culture side of the business, running bioreactors and making small-scale supernatants.
What interesting research projects have you been working on recently?
Right now, I’m working to develop our pooled PBMC product, which can be used to detect endotoxins at very low levels. I’m currently optimizing the assay using the PBMC pools to function optimally.
Endotoxin testing is traditionally very expensive, with kits in high demand and backordered for months or years. Pooled PBMC may offer a lower-cost, more humane alternative to testing endotoxins compared to conventional LAL (horseshoe crab) testing.
What research services are you most passionate about providing?
My main goal is to make sure every cell product that passes through our lab is of the highest quality, extremely viable, and functional for our customers. We’ve streamlined our intake processes so that our cells are frozen as quickly as possible for best quality. We usually get cells processed and frozen within 3.5–6.5 hours.
We very rarely have a customer call with quality issues, so I know we’re making their jobs easier by delivering high-quality cells the first time.
Do you have a favorite piece of equipment in the lab or a go-to protocol?
One of our centrifuges is going on 30 years old. It still works perfectly and we’re taking side bets on how long it will last.
What led you to become a scientist?
My parents, both M.D.s, raised me around science and labs, so it was sort of inevitable.
My mom got her Ph.D. and M.D. when I was growing up and is now a microbiologist at Stanford Hospital working in infection control. She was actually among the first class of female graduates from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
My dad was also an M.D. and worked at the National Institute of Health (NIH) for a few years, and later went on to become the director of the Pacific Medical Center before retiring.
I also developed a passion for environmental sciences and pursued a certification in wetland science and management at the University of Washington. I spearheaded a 6-year restoration project of Barr Creek, a tributary of the Skykomish River north of Seattle. I also started a salmon carcass nutrient enhancement project, for which I received an award from Field & Stream Magazine in 2006. The two projects were orchestrated through Trout Unlimited, a national freshwater stream and river habitat conservation group.
Any tips for young people interested in a career in biosciences?
To be successful in bioscience, you have to be a lifelong learner. Keep up with your education both in and out of school, attend conferences, and read articles. Most importantly, stay up to date on technology developments. New tech changes our industry very quickly, so look for ways to apply tech to your work to stay at the forefront.
What advances in research or techniques do you foresee in 2019?
CAR-T and CRISPR technologies are just the tip of the iceberg that will undoubtedly lead to more powerful cancer therapies and life-saving treatments. I’m looking forward to the changes ahead and would love to experiment with modifying T cells for cancer research.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not in the lab?
I run a small photography business on the side and am on the board of directors of the Seattle Photographic Society. I love improving my skills and pushing myself to be a better photographer.
The best part about my hobby is showing people how beautiful Seattle and Washington are, and showing them areas worth preserving and saving. I’m currently experimenting with light painting, focus stacking, and merging images.
I also love hiking, fishing, and spending time outdoors.
To learn more about Chris, connect with him on LinkedIn.