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Meet Our Expert: Cheryl Dambrot

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6 min read
Meet Our Expert is our newest interview series where you will get to meet the talented people behind Cergentis' success on a personal level. In these interviews, we discuss about the common challenges our customers face in genetic research and how we strive to support them to the best of our abilities. Besides, we also touch upon life, job responsibilities, career developments, corporate culture, vision and mission, etc. During this interview, Cheryl talks about her scientific journey, her long-standing interest for science, the unique features of TLA, her recent promotion and gives a glimpse into our corporate culture.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a Scientific Account Manager and I’ve been at Cergentis for almost 3 years. I am originally from the US. I did my Bachelor’s in the Northern part of New York state before moving to the Netherlands to do my Master’s and PhD at the Leiden University Medical Center, where I focused on stem cell biology. I then went on to do a post-doc at Yale Stem Cell Center - focusing on stem cells in mouse and human cells and neurological development - before coming back to the Netherlands. After joining Cergentis, I stayed here ever since!

What got you into science?

In fourth grade we had a teacher who taught us to question. We weren’t allowed to accept what he said but had to try it ourselves instead! So we had this little experiment where you had to put a pumice rock in water and see if it floated. I still remember this! We had a whole bunch that day! [laughs] Again, it was the first time where you didn’t have to accept what the teacher said was real but had to figure it out yourself. So that kind of got me into the idea of science.

And in high school, we had this (3-year) scientific research course, where you’re kind of a “real” scientist. We were mentored by an actual scientist and that opportunity made me like science even more!

Why did you decide to study in Europe?

I came to the Netherlands to do a Master’s and I wanted to do stem cell biology. At that time, the laws around stem cells in the US weren’t ideal for a researcher. So it was a good time to come to Europe. Especially in the Netherlands, where it’s much more liberal about stem cell biology.

How did your transition from academia to industry come about?

After my PhD, I was searching for a postdoc position because I wanted to some day run a lab. And I wanted to continue working with stem cells. In academia, the only examples I had were postdocs. Indeed, there aren’t many people from the biotech industry to lead the way. And at the time, I had a negative view of industry and thought that everything was more secretive in a company. I was under the illusion that academia is much more open. However, I realized during my PhD studies that that’s also not the case. And during my postdoc I realized that I didn’t want to be in academics anymore. I have much more of a collaborative nature and I felt that that was much more in line with industry.

Can you briefly explain how TLA sets itself apart from other conventional technologies?

With Targeted Locus Amplification (TLA), we define a lot of information with only little to start with. For the most standard studies, we can go from the vector out into the genome. We can identify not only one but also multiple integration sites, and we can also determine if something has gone wrong (e.g., sequence variants, structural variations in the vector that has been integrated, etc.). So TLA gives us a larger point of view. You get a lot of information with TLA.

Also, once we know the breakpoint, we can do a number of different follow-up studies to enquire even more information. Let’s suppose that you have 15 integration sites and that you also have 5 or 6 structural variations. With a follow-up study, we could place TLA primer sets directly on/around the genomic location of the integration sites to determine which structural variations belong to which vector. So, while we do get a lot of information initially, it doesn’t necessarily have to stop there! Additional studies can also get you additional information, which might not have been found in the initial report.

You were recently promoted to Scientific Account Manager [SAM]! Can you explain to our readers what your new role entails?

I started off as a project scientist, where I did the lab work as well as the analysis. But since last November, I became a SAM.

I mainly handle cell line development which is mostly CHO (Chinese Hamster Ovaries)-related projects, which are used for a lot of cell line productions. So it is a lot of cell line development, a lot of MCBs, etc. It’s nice because I really become an expert at what to look for! Indeed, there are so many different things that can happen (e.g., many different integration effects, types, vectors). But usually, customers are interested in similar things.

CHO is a nice cell line to use in production. It sometimes becomes unstable in culture but that’s something we can detect. And we can detect with our genetic stability study to see if your vector has not changed over time.

More generally, as a SAM, I need to juggle between the analysis, the QC, as well as the responsibilities that accompany this position (i.e., providing support to our customers, go over the deliverables/reports, etc. So my main focus in the company as a SAM is cell line development but I also do analysis for the other sorts of TLA applications.

Now that you are a SAM, how often do you interact with our CHO customers?

Being a SAM does allow you to understand the projects even more. I’m usually supporting our returning commercial customers. And since they have already done a lot of TLA, they already know a lot from our past calls and conversations. However, whenever I join a call with a new customer, it is indeed nice because I get to understand their projects better as well as their specific needs and desires.

Can you describe the work culture here at Cergentis?

Everyone is really nice and open! Since we are rapidly growing, a lot is changing in the company, but it’s still a very leveled organization. Indeed, you don’t feel like you could never talk to the CEO or that you can’t question things. People here are open to suggestions when you comment something. So it’s very nice to have this openness. And I think it’s nice that everyone is still trying (especially now with the growth, where we now have more departments and focused teams) to make an effort to get the connection. And also, to figure out how to do it the best way.

But whenever you get to go to the office, which doesn’t happen a lot due to the current pandemic, everyone is pleasant! Talking, willing to help and appreciative!

How has COVID impacted our business?

Before COVID, we already had a bit of work-from-home system set up, so it was a bit of an easier transition. We already had a VPN, so we could already access the data from home. And here at Cergentis, they regularly check up on you and make sure to ask “What do you need? Do you need new screens? We’ll send you a screen! Do you need an office chair? We’ll send you a chair!” [laughs] Cergentis is really good at accommodating your needs and making those things happen!

With the current and rapid growth of the company, are you still enjoying working at Cergentis?

Yes definitely! For instance, we are now becoming ISO certified and have a Quality Manager. Because of this a lot has changed in our processes and workflows. One of our routine customers even said: “You [Cergentis] are becoming so professional!” [laughs]

In one way, it feels strange to become bigger because it changes things. But again, the reason we are getting bigger is because we are getting more customers and more projects. We are getting a lot of demand, and we need to be able to still do as much as possible while keeping the quality of our results/reports high. But we can’t just do it by needing more help. We also have to do things more efficiently. Things that we did manually before might now require proper automation. Indeed, we can’t just keep doing everything the old way.

So those are the type of challenges that come with becoming a bigger company. Although I like the feeling of a smaller company, I don’t mind that it’s growing either! Because that also means that there are ways for me to still grow. Again, I started here as a Project Scientist, and if there wasn’t room for a Scientific Account Manager then I would have not been able to become a SAM! And I like being a SAM!


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